21st century relationships – how our social skills have changed

Bumble, Tinder, Hinge, these are all terms we would never have heard of 30 or so years ago when I was first on the dating scene. So how has dating and meeting people changed over the decades?

Social encounters

In my 20’s, if we wanted to meet some new people, we would probably head to the pub, for example. Or out for a walk, or even head to the shops. This is where we would find random people socializing and talking to both people they know and also those they don’t. This was how we met new friends. Oh, how different life is these days.

Social occasions now are all pre arranged. We are suspicious of strangers, we rarely talk to someone passing us in the street (unless you still live in Southland, I think it might be one of the last places on earth that we still do this!) We go out to meet people we already know to meetings and settings that were mutually agreed in advance. SO how on earth DO WE MEET NEW PEOPLE?

Online seems to be the answer these days. Which, personally, is quite disconcerting.

Skills and qualities we seem to have lost

  • Conversational skills
  • Ability to talk to strangers and make conversation
  • Self confidence
  • Social confidence

Part of this is down to the digital age, in fact I think a large part of this is down to the digital age.

How many times have you seen two people in a social situation and they are both on their phones and not actually talking to each other?

How technology affects our social skills

Holding eye contact is a vital social tool. We spend so much time looking at screens this is in danger of taking away from our ability to know what / where / how to look at someone when holding a conversation.

Up to 43% of human interaction is non verbal and involves the eyes. It also plays a critical role in forming emotional connections. Eye contact can also be a tool for influencing others. Looking at a colleague when talking to them conveys respect. Prolonged eye contact during a disagreement can signal standing your ground.


This is one of the biggest deficits in your peoples social skills in my opinion. Asking questions, active listening, bearing able to read someone’s physical and non verbal cues are part of being a great conversationalist. Non verbal communication is a very important part of this too.

Attention span

It can be very obvious when someone is bored, either at work or in a meeting or social setting. Part of having good conversational skills is knowing when to focus and pay attention. A recent Microsoft study has proven that the digital lifestyle has made it more difficult to stay focused. The human attention span has shortened from 12 seconds to just 8 seconds in just a decade.

Heavy multi screen users find it difficult to filter out irrelevant stimuli and are much more easily distracted. The human attention span is much smaller due to the growing presence of tech gadgets. The desire to be constantly connected can compromise attention spans in exchange for being a multi-tasker.

My lifestyle changes over the past decade

I have noticed some changes in myself and how I interact with the world, certainly in the past few years since becoming disabled, but the key changes started before then.


Yes, I was one of those people in my 30’s and early 40’s, who had to be connected to devices, social media, the world, almost 24/7. Notifications meant I had to answer straight away. I felt I was at the mercy of my phone.

In recent years (for mental health purposes) I have changed that completely.

I actually love that NZ has large parts of the country with a poor or no cell signal. It’s very refreshing to be disconnected from the world, freeing in fact.

My phone goes onto silent at a certain time of evening and comes off silent at a certain time of morning. When I am working it is on do not disturb. When I am out in a social situation, it is usually in flight mode (so I can still take photos but not be bothered with all the other jumbo jumbo).

If you knew me 10 or so years ago you might think I have had a personality transplant! Yes, that is how majorly I have changed how I connect to the world.


I am autistic. So in theory conversation should be awkward. Well, it is, if you ask me to talk about feelings and emotions. That is not because I am uncomfortable doing so, it is because I lack the skills to understand and process feelings and emotions. It is a well known autistic deficit.

But, ask me to start a conversation and I am probably one of the best. I could easily converse with almost anyone, anywhere. It is often said that I could start a conversation in an empty room! This is due to many years of practice using all sorts of silent and hidden social cues you probably are not aware of. That plus the fact that I was a teacher and public speaker for over 17 years. I have gotten good at faking it! But, its a skill that has stuck with me. A skill that more socially able, neurotypical people seem to have lost. Go figure.

Where does that leave dating?

Well, yes. Where indeed.

We no longer socialize to meet people, its engineered. We seem to have lost the ability to talk to strangers, so there is no wonder everyone seems to rely on dating apps these days. You can hide behind your screen and almost be wherever you like, till you have to meet the person that is.

This is where I have found the biggest challenge.

People I have talked to online, have no idea how to make conversation. If you can’t do it online, how the heck are you going to do it face to face?

Men seem to SERIOUSLY dislike having their photo taken. So how the heck am I meant to know what you look like? Women seem to use every filter and camera trick under the sun so the poor bloke doesn’t have a clue what they REALLY look like either.

And biggest of all, no one has a clue how to sell themselves.

What the heck? Surely you aren’t all sitting at home expecting that perfect partner to knock on your door? It certainly feels that way to me!

My assessment of dating apps I have used.

Tinder – A hook up app that only seems to be used for that, not relationships.

Hinge – Not enough people in my area using it to really be able to say.

Bumble – Seems to have the most robust online security of them all, and time limits for responding meaning that you aren’t waiting for ever to see if the other party is even there. I also like how you can set it to friends only, and professional relationships


The game has changed. The rules have changed. The world has changed. So if you are coming back into dating, be prepared for a totally different experience this time around.

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