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Werner Herzog talks online dating

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Andrew Dickens
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Werner Herzog’s nature demands that you take him seriously. He is authority and assuredness in a long, fleshy form, somehow sitting back in a chair that is too rigid to be sat back in, his woolly fleece adding to a sense of comfort in being Herzog. His eyes give nothing away, because you can’t see them behind low-hanging, Roman-blind lids. And then there’s the voice. Smooth and slow and unwavering, the verbal equivalent of a gentle Kraftwerk track; that’s a voice that must be listened to.

I’m listening to it on the subject of online dating. It’s a conversation that ties into his new documentary, Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World, examining the impact of “a huge, huge event in civilisation, at least as significant as the introduction of fire or electricity”: the internet. It’s also a conversation that ties into my life. This month, I’ll marry a woman I met online. I don’t tell Herzog.

“The internet massively changes behaviour,” he says.

“How do you meet a young woman? And date her and fall in love? In some of these dating applications, it’s a very blunt outlet for organising quick fornication. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I don’t believe that real, serious relationships are forged that way.”

Now I tell him.

“Which is totally fine, but part of the first, superficial knowledge you had. You also had to connect and be compatible, fall in love. These dating applications are like the country fair, the barn dance, where you would meet your bride. Of course, I have never actually looked at these websites. You probably can tell a lot; you can see how somebody advertises herself. But it’s a stylised version of her, and you know this.”

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“Which is totally fine, but part of the first, superficial knowledge you had. You also had to connect and be compatible, fall in love. These dating applications are like the country fair, the barn dance, where you would meet your bride. Of course, I have never actually looked at these websites. You probably can tell a lot; you can see how somebody advertises herself. But it’s a stylised version of her, and you know this.”

Advertising and styling, consumer knowledge: dating has gone a bit Amazon, hasn’t it? We browse potential dates, plonk them in a basket, maybe save for later, check out and then try them on for size. All in the name of convenience in these busy, busy times. So busy. Has this chocolate-box choice made our attitude to love more disposable?

“The length of relationships has not fundamentally changed,” says Herzog. “You cannot, for example, look at divorce rates; I think relationships came apart silently over the decades and centuries. There was simply no divorce in these times. I don’t think that human relationships accelerate because of the internet. On some levels yes, on Tinder perhaps, but not most. You don’t need an application to come to the conclusion there might be something better [outside of your relationship]. You will know faster, yes, but fundamentally things have not changed.”

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But surely there will be change. One thing you can say about the future is that it’s never failed to turn up – and it usually brings surprises. The mind boggles at where relationships might go. I think I’m pretty damned modern, finding a wife on a computer, but as one contributor to Herzog’s film asks, “Will our children’s children’s children need the companionship of humans?”

It’s a good question. We live so much more of our lives online, shamefully, often while we’re physically with other people (“I read that 15 per cent of people while having sex are checking their text messages,” says Herzog, letting out a laugh that marches to the same beat as his speech). As technology accelerates, the desire for convenience and perfection could lead to a drastic change in human relationships. Perhaps, one day, they’ll all take place online, as we rely on an ‘ideal’ Weird Science or Ex Machina-style 3D-printed AI companion for physical comfort, procreating solely via drone-delivered bodily fluids.

“It is already visible,” says Herzog. “For example, toy companies are doing intelligent robots, but they look like cuddly, fluffy animals, with big eyes that can read from your expression that you are sad. And they speak to you in a very comforting, soothing way, or sing a song to cheer you up. So we’ll see a lot of companionship with toys, and they’ll replace pets.”

And therefore, logically, sex robots that look like Kelly Le Brock and Alicia Vikander will replace human lovers.

“Yes, there is even already consideration in legal departments; can you do violence against an intelligent robot? Like how we are not supposed to beat a dog severely, what about violence against semi-intelligent robots? We are at the very, very first steps of these things. What we have to do is conceptually understand who we are, and what we need. Do I need a fluffy toy that sings to me? No I don’t.”

These things are unlikely to affect Herzog. Not because he’s 74, but because Herzog doesn’t do apps and Herzog doesn’t do social media (though he is aware of ‘fake Herzogs’). He’s disappointed that people delegate so much to phones and computers, that they sit at the dinner table and text rather than talk. I ask if there’s one non-digital skill he wants us to keep when it comes to dating.

“I do not speak of we, I do my life as I like to do it, and you do your life your way. I congratulate you that you are getting married and at the same time I marvel at the fact that you found your bride on some sort of internet platform. But of course, I know you had to seriously connect face-to-face, and you had to get a sense of her voice, of how she would dress, how she behaved, what she radiated, you had to get some charm, something lovely that came across directly at you, you had to have meaningful conversation, and you had to touch physically, eventually, at some point. So congratulations to all of that, it’s all the old-fashioned stuff.”

And that will never be replaced?

“I don’t think so, no. Don’t worry, you are the perfect example.”

Lo And Behold, Reveries Of The Connected World is at cinemas now

Image credit: Rex/Getty

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Andrew Dickens

Andrew Dickens is Special Projects Editor at ShortList. A veteran of eight years on the magazine, he makes up for his lack of pace by having ‘an extra sentence’ in his head. Twitter: @andrewdickens Instagram: @andrewdickens

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