Oddly enough, until about 15 years ago seduction was a face-to-face and analog sport. He was dazzled by his body and by his voice, in person or on the phone, squeezing into bars and discos at untimely hours of the morning, in cinemas and libraries, barely overcoming social inhibition and fear of ridicule. Many millennials and boomers long for that wild West, fast-paced and atavistic. But the Z, that posthumous generation that has come to close the alphabet, today feel like wild barracudas in the great fish tank of the virtual league, with an arsenal of emojis and a keyboard, which is almost the only conceivable one, the only one that matters.
The novelty in recent years, also stimulated by the collective lockdown syndrome that the pandemic has brought, is that even dating apps are on the way to becoming part of that Jurassic park. Tinder, Grindr, Match, Bumble and company are beginning to be perceived as too obvious, direct or explicit flirting tools, the contemporary equivalent of exchange clubs or college bacchanalia with an open bar. The latest cry is to deploy the arts of seduction on social networks. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Periscope, with its extensive social interaction options, a priori, not eroticized, they are the new hunting ground, the true digital ocean teeming with fish.
They are, above all, in some countries. According to the Canadian sociologist Bernie Hogan, in “gregarious” cultures, such as those of Spain, Italy, Argentina or Brazil, it is considered legitimate to use social networks for these other purposes. This “subtle sexualization of non-sexual platforms” would be, in his opinion, very unacceptable “in northern Europe and is not entirely well received in places like Great Britain or the United States, which prefer to make use of dating applications, an environment in which the rules of the game are explicit and clear ”.
By contrast, Latino culture has always been much more inclined to conceive dating as a game without rules, or with fluid rules and in a process of constant reformulation. Hogan is somewhat perplexed by how many users insist on eroticizing “even networks as aseptic as LinkedIn.” It is difficult to conceive of a less appropriate context. A place where people go, in theory, to give visibility to their professional activities or to look for work, but in which attempts at seduction “more or less explicit, not always reciprocated and often frankly uncomfortable” take place on a daily basis.
Why try on such a network instead of turning to Tinder? Perhaps for reasons very similar to those used, 20 years ago, by those incurable romantics who were looking for a partner in creative writing workshops and not in unsanitary gambling dens. As sexologist Nikki Goldstein explains in her book Single but Dating, “Many people prefer to try their luck in non-erotic contexts because that way they can test the waters without their intentions being explicit from the beginning.” This can lead to “very suggestive and rich seduction games, but also to embarrassing misunderstandings.”
For the British journalist Julia Malacoff, this risk is greatly reduced if “a series of unwritten codes are known, but already highly consolidated”. Malacoff has studied those of Instagram, the main option for the youngest when it comes to flirting through a massive network. In which one day it was the platform of photographers amateur, three “likes” to old images of the same person in a period of a week are equivalent to little less than to request an appointment, but four or more consecutive “likes” to recent updates (especially if they are not reciprocated) can be interpreted as an act of undesirable digital harassment. A short but thoughtful direct message, well written, and never overly explicit will be welcomed as a show of discrete interest and good taste, but a succession of unanswered messages is synonymous with anxiety and intrusive behavior.
Each network has its own codes, also subject to generational variables. The most veteran applicants tend to take refuge on Facebook and the ice is broken with emojis. On Twitter, bookmarking a message is often interpreted as the equivalent of a like on Tinder, and the network etiquette allows for a somewhat quicker transition to direct messages, which is fertile ground for the more intrepid. TikTok is an emerging powerhouse, an environment that allows you to request a tutorial or suggest a duet. In Periscope it is linked in a very direct way, even with a certain crudeness, as in the despues de of yore. In any of these environments, as has always happened, one enjoys (or suffers) the torment and ecstasy of taking a decisive step waiting for it to be reciprocated.
As Bernie Hogan explains, one of the paradoxes of the digital age is that “it has brought us a generation that is perhaps at the same time the most sexual and the most celibate on the planet.” Massive and free access to pornography has propelled the internet and multiplied the possibilities for self-satisfaction, but recent studies show that “the percentage of single adults who have never had sex is higher now than it was 40 years ago.” Sex is, today more than ever, an oil stain that permeates everything. Hence, the game of seduction continues to virtualize more and more and now takes refuge in the networks. And hence also that it is ceasing to be an analog sport.