Another old person said smartphones have ruined young people’s love lives

Change the record tbh


Old people love having a go.

This has always been true; one day, when I am an old person, I expect I will relish in it too. However, for now, the uninformed superiority of the older generations always bores me and occasionally agitates me.

A recent episode did the latter. At an event in east London this week, author Jeanette Winterson quipped that phones have ruined our generation’s love lives. “Winterson light-heartedly suggested that the digital world – the ‘upgrade generation’ seeking regular updates on new phones – had affected our love lives,” reported the Evening Standard.

“It is why relationships are so difficult now,” Winterson said. “Why stay with the model you’ve got when you could come out of your contract in 24 months and get another one.”

Anyone who has tried to leave a network provider after their contract has elapsed will know that it is not this straightforward; miss the date of your contract’s end by 4 hours and they’ll have signed you up for another 36 months – and you’ll still have to spend 15 minutes standing in the orbit of a pub with an open WiFi network on a Friday night because you’ve rinsed your meagre data allowance.
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But more pertinently, the narrative about how smartphones have ruined our relationships and turned us into fickle, fidgety thrill-seekers is misjudged. Sure, it was a quip – but it’s also a refrain really popular with lots of old people. And it’s really boring.

Winterson presumes that smartphones (subtext: Tinder) have created a shallow, frantic hook-up culture which precludes the formation of  meaningful connections. Her remarks are consistent with a Vanity Fair piece that went viral last year, in which journalist Nancy Jo Sales proposed that Tinder had heralded a “dating apocalypse”.

And certainly, there’s some of that going on: Tinder makes it easier to order a shag. However, there’s a chicken and egg comparison to be made here: did Tinder create that culture, or did it grow so quickly because we were all looking for it? Tinder does not exist in isolation – it was borne into a world where guys and girls are more comfortable with their sexuality and traditional social roles are shifting. Increasingly, people place more emphasis on their careers than their relationships. It is unsurprising that we are attracted to the speed and relative anonymity of dating apps – our priorities are different. It’s not all bad that we can have uncommitted fun if we want to.

On the other hand – people do date using these apps. They’re an easy, convenient way to meet people. They are not by definition meaningless – meeting someone electronically is only meaningless if you want it to be.

Furthermore, on a broader level, this argument typically assumes that electronic contact has entirely replaced real-life contact: it hasn’t. I still see all my mates. And arguably – I am closer to more of them. Real-time contact means that I can spend all day firing missives about my various humiliations and small victories. My best mate will know that I dropped my debit card down the loo; she will know that I wore a really cheap top and now I’m sweltering but can’t take off my jumper because I have huge, sopping sweat patches. These are the sort of personal details you wouldn’t remember to tell them when you’re in the pub, or over dinner – and they are also the forensic details that give someone a really complete version of your life and who you are. Smartphones can make you feel closer to someone, not further apart. You send your group WhatsApp pictures of yourself on the bus, messing about; you send videos of your group dinner to the person who couldn’t make it because you miss them.

Winterson and the oldies can have their analogue version of life – mine’s faster, more fun and has more people in it.