It’s official folks, I am now proclaiming Ensitreffit alttarilla* as the best show on Finnish television.
(*if you are unfamiliar with the show, jump down to the bottom of this post for a quick explanation before you read the rest)
Before I explain my justification in making such a claim, I should probably provide full disclosure and admit that there are two reasons why I am an imperfect judge to do so:
- I don’t watch a whole lot of Finnish Television, especially since my freaking digibox broke like 6 months ago and I’m too lazy to remedy the situation. I promised my wife I’d get us a new one, but I’m waiting for an exciting digibox-related adventure to present itself before I begin my journey… otherwise it will just be a boring Saturday afternoon trip to Verkkokauppa, which is almost as bad as a Sunday afternoon trip to Ikea… no thanks.
- My Finnish language listening ability generally falls within a 70 to 95% comprehension range (defined by % of words understood), depending on pace and content of the conversation. While that sounds not so bad for a native-English-speaking foreigner, you’d be amazed at how much you’re missing and how difficult it is to keep up even at a level of let’s say 80% comprehension. This article does an excellent job of explaining what this feels like in reality. Ensitreffit alttarilla is completely in Finnish, so there’s a decent amount which goes over my head.
But okay, despite these shortcomings, I still feel confident enough to make this bold proclamation. Here’s what first got me thinking about this topic…
A few weeks ago, I was enjoying Oktoberfest with some friends at one of my favorite pubs/restaurants in Helsinki. By random chance, I saw 5 of the 6 main Ensitreffit alttarilla Season 3 cast members hanging out together at a nearby table, and had a “Holy shit, celebrities!” moment… but then I remembered that I was in Finland and I had to do the Finnish thing of pretending to not recognize them nor acknowledge their existence. However, I couldn’t resist sending my wife a WhatsApp message to tell her about it (since she watches the show with me). In the ensuing minutes I received a barrage of questions from her, asking things like who was sitting next to who, if the couples looked happy and still together, and a half dozen other things which she could have figured out more easily by picking up a Seiska (trashy Finnish tabloid) next time she’s at S-Market. Anyway, after the texts subsided, and me and my pals had moved to a different part of the restaurant (since a table finally opened up), I forgot about the whole thing and focused on important stuff, like if I was going to go with the Caesar salad, or German sausages and mashed potatoes. In case you were wondering, I went with the salad and was immediately full of regret and melancholy as the waitress walked away to place my order with the kitchen.
While waiting for our food to arrive, one of my single buddies opened Tinder on his phone, and then begrudgingly allowed me to play with it on his behalf after a bit of nagging. Within moments, I was rapidly swiping left and right (… but mostly left), making decisions about the attractiveness of human beings (and therefore their inherent value in the world of Tinder). Each decision took me probably on average 8/10ths of a second.
Left. Left. Left. Ri–, eh, nope, Left. Left. Nope. Nope. She’s cute, Right. Right. Left…
Then it struck me like a bullet right in the morally conscious part of my soul: in less than one second each, I was judging other humans, and then throwing most of them away like human pieces of garbage without a moment’s hesitation. W… T… F… is going on in this horrible world that we’ve created?! Who am I to judge others like this? How is this OK??
In other words, I was having an impromptu existential crisis.
Now a few things to point out here before Tinder-users think I’m being a judgemental jerk:
- If I was a single dude during the age of Tinder, I am 100% certain that I would download and use it. Not sure how often or for how long, but I have zero doubt that I would use it for at least some period of time. So I am not one to judge.
- I know a dozen people or so who are (or were) in good relationships which started on Tinder. That’s freaking awesome, and Tinder and other similar technologies deserve a lot of the credit for enabling those relationships. Yay technology!
- And if it’s just being used as a “hook-up” app, that’s great as well. That means it’s matching up people who have similar goals in terms of what they want out of a relationship/encounter, and I’m all about market efficiency, so no qualms there.
- And really, this is probably what our ape brains do subconsciously all the time anyway, with or without a phone app to make it official. Even if you’re not actively looking for a mate, at some deep level your brain probably knows within 8/10ths of a second whether or not you’re attracted to someone (i.e., your brain swipes them left or right, even though you’re not actively thinking about it). But with Tinder, there’s a physical confirmation process that just happens to make you more cognizant of what you’re doing, which is something that we don’t have to face in normal everyday life… so it just seems somehow more brutal, even if it isn’t.
Anyway, after I made one too many bad decisions (according to my friend), and started one too many awkward Tinder chats (while trying to make my other friends at the table laugh), my buddy took his phone back and we hopped into other discussion topics for the remainder of the evening.
On the walk home later that night, I started thinking about Tinder, about the show Ensitreffit alttarilla, and how they are almost exact opposites of each other. With Tinder, you’re picking potential mates from a massive crowd, and have almost no commitment nor risk of ego-devastating rejections… at least up to the point where you meet the other person face-to-face. Meanwhile, Ensitreffit alttarilla has an immediate and fairly high commitment (i.e., marriage), and you are choosing from the tiniest group of people possible… only the one. That said, the show takes place over the course of a single summer, and it seems fairly easy to break it off at the end if things don’t work out… but still, 8 weeks is a lot longer of a commitment than 8 tenths of a second. Additionally, on Ensitreffit you’re going through that process of relationship successes and failures on a nationally televised program which means a much greater risk of public humiliation… but with Tinder, nobody knows or cares about how many people you swipe left or right while sitting alone on the metro, or how many failed chats you’ve had while drunkenly stumbling home from the pub on a Friday evening.
To elaborate on this point, If I were to map it out, and included traditional forms of dating in this mix to add further perspective, it would look something like this:
As you can see, the trend that technology drives is pushing us down and to the right. It has become easier to interact with larger and larger groups of people, but this also means that your average commitment level and social investment in these people drops almost to zero. There’s some good in this: less socially awkward interactions, less rejection, less spending time with people you don’t like… but at the same time, having to deal with those challenges and uncomfortable situations is part of what makes us human. The internet allows us to socially isolate ourselves with only those people who we find to be attractive (via Tinder), or who share the same interests (via reddit), or hold the same political views (via filtering your Facebook feed), and so on. But real life isn’t like that. In real life, we live in countries and cities with a wild hodge podge of different people, and we need to figure out how to somehow build societies and compromise and get along, at least to the extent that we don’t destroy ourselves. We can’t just swipe our neighbors to the left because they voted for a person or policy that we find deplorable.
And therein lies the best part of Ensitreffit alttarilla… it’s a show that takes real people and puts them in the exact opposite situation of what the “throwaway” elements of our culture seem to encourage. It forces us to reflect on questions like, “What would it be like if I was in an arranged marriage?” and “Ignoring physical appearances, what personality traits and ways of interacting are making these people’s relationships succeed/fail?”, and “Can’t these idiots see how they’re behaving? Oh wait… I act like that sometimes…”
What’s especially impressive is how vulnerable the folks on the show have allowed themselves to become. By this, I mean they are willing to live through the intense feelings of new relationships and the awkwardness/embarrassment arising from arguments, hurt feelings and possible rejection… and they’re doing this in front of a national audience instead of in the safety of their own privacy bubbles. Modern technology enables us to somewhat remove ourselves from these intense human experiences by allowing us to hide behind a 4 inch smartphone screen… and not just with Tinder, but in all forms of communication where we’re protected by the anonymity and distance that the internet provides. The show does a good job of reminding us how these human experiences should feel, and that it’s not always the other person’s fault when you’re in an argument or communication breaks down.
I don’t know… perhaps this makes me sound like an old fart wishing for the “good old days”… but I don’t think that’s the case. I think we’re better off in 2016 than we were in 2006, and certainly better off than we were in 1956. And I’m fairly optimistic that things will continue to improve in the future as technology relentlessly expands the ways in which we interact with each other and enhances our ability to maintain more relationships. This is especially useful for folks like me who have people they love on both sides of the Atlantic… without technology, it would be a lot harder to stay connected with many of the important people in my life. But that said, I’m still fascinated by shows and other things (such as books, blogs and good conversations) that make us stop and think about the unintended consequences that technology has on our deeper human nature. And as silly as it may sound, I think Ensitreffit alttarilla does just that… even if it wasn’t the original intention of the show’s creators.
*SIDE NOTE to people not so familiar with Finnish TV: Ensitreffit alttarilla is a reality TV show aired in Finland. It roughly translates into “First Date at the Altar”, and the main concept is that two people meet each other for the first time at a wedding altar just minutes before they get married, hence the title. Once they are married, the show follows them around for a few months throughout a Finnish summer. Yes, it sounds like a typical trashy reality TV show… but surprisingly, it has a lot of heart. It focuses on people and their feelings and being human, as opposed to the shallow and stupid drama you see in most reality TV shows.