‘Black Mirror': We Asked a Digital Dating Expert to Review ‘Hang the DJ’

Francesca Hogi says “Hang the DJ” has good news and bad news about online dating

“Black Mirror” isn’t known for its optimism, but digital dating expert Francesca Hogi says the episode “Hang the DJ” contains a hopeful message for the lovelorn: “Even in online dating hell, soulmates still exist.”

TheWrap asked Hogi for insights into “Hang the DJ,” which focuses on two singles using a futuristic matchmaking program called The System. Hogi, a love and life coach and co-founder of an upcoming dating platform called Sonar, seemed like the perfect person to look into Netflix’s deep dark truthful mirror: She’s a frequent expert on NBC’s “Today” and former film producer and lawyer (seriously, read her story). 

If you haven’t watched the episode, learn more about it here, or come back after you’ve seen it. Here’s Hogi’s love letter to “Hang the DJ,” abridged from an email exchange:

I love that this is ultimately a story about risking everything for love. It’s really romantic and optimistic to imagine that even in online dating hell, soulmates still exist. It’s also about trusting yourself to know when someone is or isn’t right for you. Destiny is still in control in some way. If we weren’t capable of believing that, online dating wouldn’t be a thing. No one would bother enduring terrible dates and awkward sex and constant disappointment.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of this episode is that the characters don’t know they’re being put through this really elaborate test. They think they don’t have any choice but to trust The System. If they knew upfront that rebellion was an option, it wouldn’t work — they would opt out of it as soon as they got stuck with someone they didn’t like. Watching them settle for all of these terrible matches with this blind optimism that it’ll all work out in the end — that’s what happens everyday with the 40 million singles in the U.S. who are dating online. Which in a way is a strong argument for technology that’s “smarter” than us misguided humans. 

Ultimately it’s the human element that wins out, even in this version of the future. The System is making a guess — and it’s testing that hypothesis over and over again. The users aren’t making a fully informed decision, but they’re still making a decision based on the information they have available. 

There are so many real-life relatable moments in this episode that make it really special and add to its realism. The awkwardness of that first face-to-face meeting, the uncertainty of not knowing if/when you should have sex, talking to your current partner about your ex, the frustration and seeming futility of dating at times. And that awful “Did I blow my one chance at love?” feeling.

If dating companies could build The System, they sure as hell would! People would pay anything to get a 99.8% “ultimate match.” Online dating is already a multi-billion dollar industry. In the love industry, we say that matchmaking is the world’s second-oldest profession. People have always and will always want help finding love and companionship. It’s only natural that as we get more and more smart technology, that’ll be put to use by people wanting to make money off of this desire. 

Online dating companies invest a lot of money in algorithms that make a lot of decisions behind the scenes in online dating today. The typical user has no awareness of the technology that’s powering their dating apps. 

You might think there’s no rhyme or reason to the order or the quality or even the responsiveness of your matches on dating apps, but that’s not true. The online dating algorithms are constantly learning your behavior and preferences and showing you matches accordingly. I teach my clients how to train the algorithms to work best for them. If the algorithm decides you’re more attractive than most, it’ll show you more attractive matches. If you are super picky in who you choose, the app will show you other users who are super picky.

 It’s actually very realistic that a company would create these kind of simulations if the technology existed. Think of all the information Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple have about you. We have no idea what they’re doing with all of that information, other than try to sell you stuff. If they decided to use it to match you with romantic partners, they’d probably figure out a way to do a pretty good job. Better than you could do for yourself when you’re drunk swiping on Tinder! 

AI is already happening on dating apps. Dating app Hinge launched a bot you can pay extra for that will do all the searching, messaging and scheduling for you. It’s supposed to be indistinguishable from you. That’s the goal of AI, to be a flawlessly programmable version of you. In my opinion, this is a terrible idea. If you can’t be bothered to figure out how to send a message to another human, how do you figure out all the other, much more complicated bits? 

However exciting or scary you think this kind of future might be, a version of Hang The DJ is inevitable so we need to start deciding if we as a society are OK with that.