#rp24 speaker Johanna Degen: On Tinder fatigue and influencer love

02.05.2024 - The social psychologist researches online dating and social media use. At #rp24, she talks about the digital misunderstanding of human encounters.
Johanna Degen trägt einen Rollkragenpullover, lange offene Haare und stützt ihren Unterarm auf ein Geländer.
Photo Credit
Kath Konopka

For many people, apps and digital platforms have become everyday havens – whether to get to know someone, find a relationship or have sex. For a long time, research into mobile phone use and online dating was based on the assumption of anxiety – i.e. FOMO – or addiction-like behaviour. However, more recent findings show that these use cases have their own purpose: We bond with the characters in the end device, calm ourselves down via swiping and outsource our needs for recognition, social connection or sex and intimacy. 

In short: We engage in digitally mediated, parasocial relationships that compete with analogue relationships. However, parasociality can make us lonely, says social psychologist and #rp24 spokesperson Johanna Degen. The constant preoccupation with smartphones not only influences attention, but also changes entire relationships. This phenomenon probably culminates in the interruption of intimacy by mobile phones, also known as "phubbing". Nevertheless, apocalyptic scenarios and dystopia are misguided: so how can things continue as well as improve? Psychological research already has a few answers to this question – as positive use cases exist, likewise with accompanying positive effects and potential therapeutic approaches! 

Johanna L. Degen, aka "Dr Tinder", is a social and media psychologist and researches topics relating to love, sex and relationships in digital communication via social media and dating apps. She is currently working on her habilitation, as well as researching and teaching at the European University of Flensburg. She is is a visiting researcher in Oslo and Verona and is leading several international research projects on the topics of love, dating and the meaning of life. In addition, she heads the Psychological Institute for Subjectivity and Practice Research and has her own private practice in couples, sexual and family counselling with a focus on media and alternative relationship constellations as well as family patchwork situations. She is also co-founder of Teach LOVE – a knowledge transfer project focusing on sex education and psychological counselling on parasocial competence. She is the co-author of "Liebe ohne Ende: Liebesbiografische Erzählungen vom Leben" (“Love without End: Biographical love stories”.  Her newest book "Swipe, like, love: Intimacy and Relationship in the Digital Age." has come out this April.

We look forward to finding out more about the phenomenon of "parasociality" from Johanna at re:publica 24 and learning how things can perhaps be done differently!


#WhoCares: An interview with Johanna Degen.

The Motto of re:publica 24 is „Who Cares?“. Whom or what are you currently caring about?

I "freakin" care that we don't date past each other in a collective misunderstanding, hurt each other, have mechanical instead of sensual sex and become lonely and emotionally impoverished in our social media isolation, rather than having meaningful encounters. For me, what counts are humanistic encounters, which many of us hunger for, but which we are finding increasingly difficult to create in public as well as private spaces.

What do we care about too little as a society?

We are stuck in the idea of controlling and mechanising everything. Good sex is supposed to be when you know all the positions and anatomy –  i.e. when you have the skills, for which there are online courses and books. A relationship is when you are checklisting where you stand and whether you are getting everything you want out of it. But intimacy, closeness and resonance are spontaneous states – which we cannot enforce. We have to turn towards and devote attention to them, learn to again take emotional risks and then see where we end up. This is the really exciting stuff, and for which we don't need an app, a metaverse and hardly any money.

Is there a person, movement or institution that inspires you in their care for a particular issue? Or maybe a book, article or podcast that inspired you recently?

I'm touched by the fact that many “couple podcasts” have finally started getting into true conversations via this new format. But people: you don't need an audience or a podcast for that! 

What would you like to talk about at re:publica?

I will talk about how humans can avoid being consumed by technology, but how they can utilise tech to live a meaningful and sincerely felt life. Whether we are dating via app or via social media – we literally have it in our hands.

Der Mensch als Rohmaterial der Technik: Parasozialität in Annäherung, Beziehung und Sex

Johanna L. Degen

Tindererschöpft und trotzdem am Swipen? Mehr am Scrollen, als du genießt? IPad mit beim Dinner am Tisch? Vielleicht leidest du an Parasozialität und wirst gerade zum Rohmaterial der Technik! Wie es anders geht, erfährst du im Vortrag zur humanistischen Begegnung in Technisierung. xo, eure Dr. Tinder
Stage 1
Live Übersetzung