The 2010 film TiMER presents a world in which, sometime during the 1990’s, scientists discovered that at some point in their lives, all human beings meet their soul mate. With this new knowledge, a device called the TiMER was developed that would count down until the night before the user met their soul mate and go off when they first laid eyes on each other. In the opening credits, a collection of news pieces about the TiMER, the device is touted as the “next step in computer matchmaking.” The creator explains that it is implanted into the wrist right after the onset of puberty and uses body heat to measure levels of oxytocin. Fifteen years after its invention, there is a 98% satisfaction rate among “zeroed out couples,” and almost everyone in the United States has a device. In this world, there is no question that soul mates exist, and that everyone is destined to meet theirs and live out their happily-ever-after. The film deals with how such a device would change dating and relationships, as well as the human experience of love.

The setting is very clearly 2010 – no other technology is different or more advanced, and the cell phones are outdated from our 2016 perspective. However, this also makes the technology more recognizable. The TiMER store, where one can purchase a TiMER (and sign up for their exorbitant monthly fee) and get it implanted, looks like a cross between an Apple and a Verizon store, the employees dressed in matching red T-shirts and accessories for the TiMER adorning the walls. It also establishes the possibility of homosexual and interracial soul mates right away, with ads around the store depicting various couples. TiMERS are shown with different colored outlines, as though users can customize the device, much like picking the color of an iPod. According to Statista, iPhone sales increased from just over 1.5 million at the end of 2007 to nearly 12 million by the end of 2008, and kept increasing, not to mention the enormous popularity of the iPod at the time; the implication is that the TiMER changed the world and human interaction in a similar way to the iPhone and other Apple products.

Oona and her stepsister Steph, about to turn 30, don’t remember a time before the TiMER. They became sisters when their parents got TiMERs at the end of their separate marriages and found each other. Steph’s TiMER tells her she won’t meet her soul mate until she is 43, and until then she sleeps around, refusing to develop any intimate relationships with partners. Oona’s TiMER is blank; her soul mate hasn’t had a device implanted yet, and she dates TiMER-less men and takes them to get one if the relationship is going well. Of course, the relationship ends as soon as the device begins counting down to someone other than Oona. In TiMER’s alternate universe, the device, which is supposed to expand the possibility of love by alerting users to their true soul mates, their “One,” has actually held back different kinds of romantic relationships by keeping people from other types of connections and experiences.

When the movie came out, Baby Boomer use of dating websites was soaring, as was the popularity of specialized sites like JDate, ChristianMingle, Amigos, etc (Boyd). There was a trend of people who were coming out of failed marriages searching for a second chance, just as Oona and Steph’s parents found a second chance (Madden and Lenhart). In the film, because so many older people left bad marriages when they got their TiMER and discovered they weren’t with their soul mate, young people have never dated without the TiMER – Oona and Steph realize they have no idea what love is: “’Do you think it’s weird that we’ve never been in love?’ ‘No. It only happens once, so we’re due.’ ‘Yeah, but do you think they felt like that before the TiMER? Because the phrase ‘first love’ does imply seconds and thirds.’” Though the TiMER has led to a vastly decreased divorce and venereal disease rate, there’s a twisted view that a romantic relationship is not legitimate unless it is “the One.” It stunts the human experience because people don’t give themselves the opportunity to learn from different kinds of relationships, and in fact any romantic relationship that is not the “soul mate” is devalued.

Online dating, while providing the chance to meet people outside a user’s typical sphere, can also be seen as limiting. In 2007, Joe Tracy, the publisher of Online Dating Magazine, claimed online dating was “the best way possible to meet your soul mate. Never before have you had access to so many people and so many options” (Boyd). And yet, one of the first things dating sites ask users to do is categorize themselves and their possible dates by things like religion, hobbies, or physical attributes such as height and body type. This can lead to users missing out on someone because they do not fit standards a user might think they want, as well as discounting the pheromones, or “chemistry,” that have helped couples fall in love in the past: “The ways online dating sites typically implement the services of access, communication, and matching do not always improve romantic outcomes; indeed, they sometimes undermine such outcomes. Regarding access, encountering potential partners via online dating profiles reduces three-dimensional people to two-dimensional displays of information, and these displays fail to capture those experiential aspects of social interaction that are essential to evaluating one’s compatibility with potential partners” (Finkel 3). “Niche” sites especially limit options by only connecting someone with a certain “type” of person. Similarly, today’s dating apps limit us by only showing a few photos before being asked to swipe, or only answering certain questions to determine compatibility. Where is the chance to meet someone completely different from oneself, with completely different interests and background? TiMER shows a limited view of love, but limited in a completely different way from how online dating and dating apps have limited us in the real world. It also shows the importance of remaining open to different types of experience and connection, and the in-person, more spontaneous style of dating that was already changing when the film was made and is even more obsolete today.

 

Works Cited

“Apple iPhone Sales 2007-2016 | Statistic.” Statista, https://www.statista.com/statistics/263401/global-apple-iphone-sales-since-3rd-quarter-2007/. Accessed 02 Nov. 2016.

Boyd, Brian. “No Need to Whisper. Meeting Online Is OK.” South Coast Today, 16 Sept. 2007, http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20070916/NEWS/709160384. Accessed 02 Nov. 2016.

Finkel, Eli J. et al. “Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol. 13, no. 1, 2012, pp. 3-66,  www3.nd.edu/~ghaeffel/OnineDating_Aron.pdf. Accessed 19 Dec. 2016.

Madden, Mary and Amanda Lenhart. “Online Dating.” Pew Research Center, 5 Mar. 2006, http://www.pewinternet.org/2006/03/05/online-dating/. Accessed 19 Dec. 2016.

TiMER. Dir. Jac Schaeffer. Perf. Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, and John Patrick Amedori. Present Pictures and Capewatch Pictures, 2010.  Film.

“Timer (film).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timer_(film). Accessed 01 Nov. 2016.