The term “Ersatz” originated in the First World War it literally means a replacement in german. During the war, Germany experienced shortages of ingredients and materials to produce everyday things. As a result, they used substitutes that were cheaper and readily available at the expense of quality.
This gave birth to synthetic leather, pea sausages and chicory coffee. These products were essentially surrogates but during tough times there was no other option. Replacing the real deal with Ersatz took place for centuries and made its way to other parts of life. In some cases, the societal changes and not the war are responsible for the surrogates’ existence.
For instance, we know from Dubar’s research that an optimal number of human connections is 148 contacts. This is based on the size of our neocortex compared to other mammals and their social groups. Usually, we would travel around in a tribe of this size. But as a part of the larger group be it your job or city we fall back to a virtual network of 150 people within the network. There are theories that language was developed as a way to optimise social network maintenance with selected peers. I put gossiping in the same category as a tool for building social cohesion between peers in a larger group.
Social connections are an important part of human existence. Forging alliances, having fun or finding a mate are based on the quality of our connections. And this is also going through a transformation because of technology. I remember in my teens writing letters to penpals who published their details in a local newspaper.
The ads had no photos, just a name, address and a short intro. Responses took weeks and we never ended up meeting in real life or on phone calls either. It could have been someone’s cat writing me letters after eating Whiskas for dinner I would never know.
Social networks came with the premise of simplifying connecting people. The first one to appear and bite the dust was called the Six degrees with the name based on the idea that we know everyone on the planet through people. It then turned into a stream of competition with Mark Zuckerberg climbing the throne.
Strangely in a world where even your fridge is connected to the internet 3 out of 5 Americans feel lonely. Loneliness is not something to joke about as it affects mental health and causes coronary disease and strokes. It significantly increases the risk of dying from all causes, especially for people over 50. On the surface the idea of connecting people was a great one but manifested in reality it became a roasted acorn coffee that only resembled the real thing.
Dating is another part of a life filled with Erzats products. It is common to see a cliche now a response to a profile prompt on Hinge “Change my mind about…” with the answer “Dating apps”. A digital matchmaker enabling anyone no matter where you are in the world to find the love of their dreams does not work out for everyone.
An abundance of choices is one reason to blame. Knowing that there are many perfect matches makes people less invested in forming strong connections. The replacement of real-life interaction with swipes and chats also feels authentic. Ghosting as a phenomenon was widely discussed on the internet but now became a de-facto approach to boring conversations.
Imagine turning your back and walking away from a conversation with a new person at a friend’s party. Most people would prefer to suffer or find a way to end the interaction gracefully. On dating apps, a quarter of matches will do that to you. And you have a 29% chance of being a ghoster yourself.
While the picture I painted for you may look grim it is far from it. For a long time, I thought of instant noodles as a food substitute that kept me fed during uni days. With a bit of inspiration, herbs, eggs and cheese you can turn this seemingly cheap and boring food into a delicacy.
The secret sauce with these apps is to use them in a similar with meeting people in real life to see the results. A met two of my best friends using social networking apps Meetups and InterNations. I also know many happy couples who met each other on Tinder. Just like any tool the Internet can be a force of change in your life if you use them properly.
I will be publishing a detailed post on how to use social networking apps for building meaningful connections but as usual, would like to leave you with three approaches for you to try.
Treat people online the same way you would in real life
This may be harder than it seems as with a large number of matches it is difficult not to cut corners on etiquette but it is worth trying. Be selective to minimise the number of connections and subsequent overwhelm whether you are using social or dating apps.
Virtual connections will not replace meeting people face to face
The famous Steve Covey said – begin with the end in mind. Have a goal to catch up with your new online contacts face-to-face. This may be awkward in the beginning but trust me after a couple of meetups your social training wheels will no longer be required.
Whether it is looking for a romantic partner or new friends it is easy to get overwhelmed. I saw people coming to meetups and only spend the whole night building the courage to speak with someone. I was one of those guys in the beginning too. With time and practice, you will find your connection style and the right crowd.
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