Ted Fischer
Professor of Anthropology, Vanderbilt University
03:44

Technology Versus Romance

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The Vanderbilt anthropologist claims that the Internet and sites like Second Life have taken the romance out of love.

Ted Fischer

Edward (Ted) Fischer is the Director of Latin American Studies at Vanderbilt University.

Fischer studies cultural anthropology, specializing in matters of economics and moralities. Most of his fieldwork has been in Guatemala (with the Maya) but he has also worked in and written on Germany and the United States. His books include “Cultural Logics and Global Economies,” “Maya Cultural Activism,” and “Broccoli and Desire.” With Peter Benson he is now working on a project titled “Markets and Moralities.” He also has a video series out from The Teaching Co. titled “Peoples and Cultures of the World.”

He received his PhD, in anthropology at Tulane University and his undergraduate degree from University of Alabama at Birmingham after studying at Birmingham-Southern College.

Transcript

Question: Have Internet dating sites like Match.com and eHarmony.com Killed Cupid?

Ted Fischer: I’ve have thought about this.  And I think it’s -- on the one hand I think that those sorts of sites try to come up with a neat mechanical formula for romantic love that very often doesn’t hold up, despite their advertisements claiming so many marriages from some these match sites.  On the other hand, if we create love, and if we think, “Okay, I generally like people like this,” and I have, you know, the sort of social life, or sort of job where I don’t into the kind of people I like, it could be a great way to meet people.  So there’s no reason why it couldn’t work.  I generally like people who like to go to movies, or go to the theater, or like certain kinds of sporting events, and so I want a partner like that. And so, match sites make lots of sense that way.  On the other hand, we can fetishsize the match.  Right?  We can say, “If I can just tick of all of these boxes then that’s going to be the partner I like.”  And that’s setting us up for fall, because it’s still a lot of work.  Again, we have to make this relationship work.  It’s not as if I find the partner who has all of these traits I’m looking for and ta-da, we’re going to, you know, violins will rise in the background and we’re going to live happily ever after.  So I think there’s a danger there as well.  And just personally when those sites first came up, I always used to joke with friends and say, you know, “Wouldn’t you hate to have to tell people when you go around and say, ‘how did you meet?,’”  “Well, you know, we met on a dating site.”  And now I don’t feel that way anymore.  I think, you know, why not.  It’s a perfectly acceptable way of meeting other people.  And so, maybe some of us old-fashioned folks did or still would fetishsize the other kind of running into somebody on the street or at a bar, or being introduced by friends.  And yeah, so there’s not single formula.  

So I was reading something recently about there’s a phenomenon in Japan of young men who take as their girlfriends these inflatable dolls.  And they’re not really sex dolls.  They’re more elaborate than that in that they -- although they do have sex with them, I think.  And they will take them to dates to restaurants.  And so it makes one think or can one have a romantic relationship with a nonhuman, with a piece of technology, or a piece of plastic?  And I think so.  I think the answer would be yes.  But it’s an interesting question.  Does love have to be reciprocal to be love?  And I think we can create love in our own minds in a way that can probably be rewarding; although, many of us who are involved in relationships with real live people might not clearly see how.

Question: What has Second Life done to the idea of love?

Ted Fischer: Second life is a wonderful example.  I’ve read statistics that, you know, the extramarital sex on Second Life is just rampant.  So it’s an easy outlet for people to pursue these things.  But they seem to be real as well.  I mean, people have real emotions invested in this.  It’s not as if it’s just a game.  And so, I think that technology will probably keep changing the way in which we envision love in that sense.


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