Skip to main content

Don't outsource your dating life

By Evan Selinger
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Fri May 2, 2014
Is it cheating to outsource your dating life?
Is it cheating to outsource your dating life?
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A new service lets men outsource their online dating tasks to paid wingmen
  • Evan Selinger: There will be more outsourcing technology that will erode our humanity
  • He says the personal time and touch we put in activities convey attention and care
  • Selinger: We shouldn't delegate away conscientiousness, independent thinking

Editor's note: Evan Selinger is associate professor of philosophy at the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is also head of research at the university's Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC). You can follow him on Twitter @EvanSelinger The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- Critics haven't been kind to Personal Dating Assistants, a new service that allows men to up their online dating game by outsourcing tasks to paid, clandestine wingmen who pimp profiles, locate prospects and ghostwrite correspondences. GQ calls it "creepy." CNET says customers eventually will have to admit they are big fakes. And over at Jezebel, dudes who take advantage of the deception are called "human trash."

Evan Selinger
Evan Selinger

Unfortunately, Personal Dating Assistants is a sign of things to come. Thanks to technology, we'll be seeing more opportunities to degrade ourselves and others through outsourcing activities that are basic to our humanity.

Outsourcing isn't inherently problematic. After all, it's just about delegating tasks. As long as humans have been dividing labor and using tools, we've been outsourcing. Corporations have been doing it for a long while. Just think of how much stuff you use is made overseas.

Looking for love on-line
Would you find your next date on an app?
Woman creates monstrous dating profile

But in recent years there's been a shift of attitude. Some people advocate that we can live better by outsourcing more aspects of our lives.

Let's say you want to cook, but find preparation overwhelming. Just follow the lead of one "life hacker" and outsource the unpleasant parts -- let someone else pick out the meals you'll be preparing and automate your grocery shopping with online services like Amazon's Subscribe and Save.

The economic principle of comparative advantage makes outsourcing seem like a rational approach to setting priorities. Whenever time is spent on tasks you don't value or find frustrating, opportunity costs are generated. This means you're diverting attention and resources from activities that you deem important and enjoy doing.

Outsourcing will get even easier in the coming years. We already can go online and order a robot-written thank-you note. Or, if the human touch is preferred, we can get cheap ones at fivver.com. We can download an app that sends automated text messages to people we're dating. In the future, Google might release software that recommends how we should respond to social media posts.

There will be technology that anticipates our needs and recommends what we should do to accomplish our goals. We'll probably have algorithms that offer advice after tracking and analyzing other people's data trails, including our romantic and business partners.

And we might even be able to avoid self-sabotaging behavior by outsourcing our willpower. Today, we can be nudged away from sending hot-headed e-mails. Tomorrow, there will be app to help recovering addicts avoid relapsing.

The more hard and tedious work outsourcing can remove from our lives, the more tempting it will be to take advantage of it. And yet, that's exactly why we need to be vigilant.

Defenders of outsourcing believe the Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) ethic has too much cultural prominence and is wrongly "perceived as evidence of thrift or even moral virtue." They attribute this mistake to people having difficulty placing a proper value on their time.

Setting a value on time, however, is more complicated than outsourcing boosters lead us to believe.

First, outsourcing can impact responsibility. A calendar isn't just a tool for offloading memorizing commitments. It can be very helpful in organizing our busy lives and ensuring we meet our obligations. But delegation can be negative. If you only think of a lover because your phone prompts you to, maybe you're just not that into your lover.

Secondly, outsourcing can alter the quality. Sure, dating assistants can make you seem cooler than you are. But it's manipulative to use them. These supposed helpers actually diminish communication. They reduce everything to an instrumental goal -- idealized and false representation of who you are.

Ultimately, outsourcing is tricky because it can be hard to know when quality and responsibility will diminish. We've got a blind spot. It's easy to see activities filled with inefficiency, friction and hard work as boring and meaningless, rather than moments to exhibit care and develop character we can be proud of.

For example, if other people or machines write our thank-you notes, that's like believing a nice gesture is all that matters. But when we personally do it -- whether it's a handwritten note or a digitally composed song—the effort conveys concentrated attention and care. Taking the time to craft a thank-you note is not just a chore, it's an expression of the depth of our feelings for another person. Robots who write about appreciation don't actually think about generosity or behave generously. They certainly can't appreciate the saying "time is precious."

To embrace the values and develop the virtues that make human life meaningful, we shouldn't delegate away conscientiousness, independent thinking, self-control, and a host of other crucial abilities. Yes, to be human is to outsource. But we should not outsource to the extent that we erase our humanity.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 6:10 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
updated 8:11 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
updated 3:57 AM EST, Tue November 25, 2014
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
updated 4:51 PM EST, Mon November 24, 2014
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
updated 2:25 PM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
updated 7:44 AM EST, Fri November 21, 2014
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
updated 6:29 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
updated 8:34 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
updated 3:12 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
updated 10:13 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
updated 8:21 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
updated 5:56 PM EST, Thu November 20, 2014
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
updated 3:11 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
updated 8:45 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
updated 8:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
updated 10:19 AM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
updated 12:59 PM EST, Wed November 19, 2014
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
updated 9:58 PM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
updated 4:41 PM EST, Tue November 18, 2014
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
updated 8:21 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
updated 7:16 AM EST, Mon November 17, 2014
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
updated 11:07 PM EST, Sun November 16, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT