Falling in love – the ultimate romantic experience – has still eluded satisfactory standardization by the era’s efficiency-oriented innovations. The Millennial generation has grown up on legendary love stories rife with uncertainty and bravery. Disney tales presented heroic and magical tales of love, TV sitcoms explored angst in response to young crushes, and schools taught Austen novels that dramatized the trials and tribulations of passion. Such accounts have exposed young people to the challenges and upheavals involved in romance. However, this generation now rejects such emotional exhaustion of traditional quests in favor of the efficient and demystified systems offered by apps. While such dating or hookup apps are effective in gratifying the user’s whims, they often fail to spark wholehearted love, and ultimately reinforce a rather concerning gender imbalance in the dating process.
Various apps have applied the trend of automation to the dating world by aiming to optimize romantic pairings. Tinder, the most famous dating app that boasts 26 million matches a day, uses bare-bones user profiles – comprised of a few photos, brief description, and select information from Facebook – as the basis for introducing potential “matches” to one another. Other more niche and targeted apps have also sprung into popularity: Hinge connects friends and people who are friends of friends from Facebook to focus on committed relationships, while Bumble promotes a feminist platform by allowing only the woman to initiate the conversation for heterosexual couples, and Happn sets up matches with those you have had chance encounters with in daily life.
The appeal of these apps stems from their pronounced convenience: flirting can be carried out without stakes. The anonymity of the profiles and obscurity of the matching process dulls the pain of rejection. Users can message matches equally easily while out with friends at a bar or relaxing in sweatpants at home. Furthermore, if a match is boring or non-stimulating, there are low barriers to exit conversation and nearly limitless other profiles to choose from. This ease of access to a dating pool is well-suited for Tinder’s key demographic, “busy, fairly wealthy transplants who have left their friends and families, and thus are looking, assertively, to make connections in the most efficient way they can,” according to The New York Times. Tinder thus serves to replace traditional modes of introductions, which range from family connections, religious institutions, and hobby groups, with a detached and omnipresent smartphone screen.
The most successful apps thrive on a “thick” contingent of users. A high number of participants increase the number of potential connections, thus increasing the likelihood of a successful match in the optimization process. The less information an app demands of its users, the more participants the app will attract. Thus, Tinder’s simple profiles enable a massive number of users. However, apps also face the challenge of “congestion,” or becoming so crowded that it detriments users ability to find a desirable match. Some apps narrow options by targeting a niche user base – for example, JSwipe caters to Jewish singles. Other apps create optional filters, sorting users results based on distance and age.
Such apps strive to reward their users with instant gratification. They excel at allowing users to easily sift through users based on geographic location, interests, age, and apparent personality. Further, the anonymity and encouragement to flirt inspire frank conversations. Users often enjoy exciting and unexpected experiences through the app – one user recounted sleeping with a male model she met through the app, then recruiting him to be her full-time roommate. Another foodie would use the app in upscale neighborhoods in search of dates willing to pick up the tab on expensive dinners. Another user, though committed to his girlfriend, reported using the app for the ego-boost of matches. Tinder provides the opportunity to chat with a motley crew that could span from frat stars, fashionistas, athletes, artists, and travellers. All the while, users have much reign to manicure their own identity as they see fit.
However, the resulting relationships are often treated as dispensable. Young people, especially in large cities, note that Tinder is a poor means of developing meaningful connection. In part, this shortcoming is due to Tinder’s inability to incorporate chemistry while creating matches. Rather, the app provides mainly superficial criteria and encourages rash decision-making, given the ease of swiping. Secondly, the ongoing possibility for new matches enables users to be weakly accountable to previous ones. Experts note theoretical evidence that over-abundant options reduce dedication to a partner, lessening the value of each individual date.
Benjamin Karney, a social psychology professor at U.C.L.A. expands upon the latter issue, “There’s tons of research that suggests if people know they have lots of options, they feel less dependent on and committed to their current option. But options aren’t the only or the main predictor of commitment. What’s more important is that you actually like your partner. What mobile technology does is make it easier to find someone if you’re looking.” Accordingly, while apps are likely to increase the quantity of romantic matches, ultimately the quality of the relationship remains to be determined by the individual personalities.
Looking forward, Tinder aims to diversify their portfolio to broaden the types of matches that the app initiates. For example, Tinder Social, launched in summer 2016, enables groups of friends to meet up in order to expand friend groups, or– in the words of Tinder – “upgrade your social life.” Such a feature on an app encourages platonic as well as romantic connections, and reduces the unnerving uncertainty of one-on-one interactions. Tinder has also introduced a “super-like” feature, which allows users to express especially strong interest once a day. Further, Tinder is looking to expand internationally as well. Currently, Tinder has users in 196 countries, enticing the company to scale globally, as their platform is highly adaptable to many urban hubs.
In the long-term, Tinder hopes to revolutionize the app by incorporating Artificial Intelligence more prominently in user experience. Rather than demanding user participation through requiring swiping and consideration, Tinder founder and chairman Sean Rad imagines the app itself doing the heavy lifting. He envisions a “tinder assistant” that proactively notifies users of promising matches in the vicinity, report on mutual interests and friends, and even suggest ideas for date and offer to set them up. Rad described to Forbes Magazine, “Imagine you open Tinder one day and, you know, the Tinder assistant says, “You know, Sean, there’s a beautiful girl, someone that you’re going to find very attractive down the street. You have a lot of things in common and your common friend is Justin and you’re both free Thursday night and there’s this great concert that you both want to go to and can I set up a date? And here is a little bit more info about her.” This future for Tinder would thus reduce even further the agency of the user in establishing potential matches.
This ability to act on any desire – coupled with the ease of accessing more sexual partners – indeed reduces the personal value of individual relationships. Christopher Ryan, a co-author of Sex at Dawn (2010), notes of this increase in potential sexual partners, “People are gorging. That’s why it’s not intimate. You could call it a kind of psychosexual obesity.” Furthermore, while women are able to develop sexual identities in their profiles in their quest for non-committed hookups, they struggle to find respect from men, who are often keen to disregard them as “just a hookup.”
The implications of this hands-off approach empowers women by providing easier – and largely judgment-free – opportunities to act on their sexual desires. Women are given new ease of access to sexual pleasure. However, the resulting interactions in heterosexual couples still retain a gender imbalance in which men are perceived to have greater authority over the seriousness of the relationship. Elizabeth Armstrong, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, describes, “Young women complain that young men still have the power to decide when something is going to be serious and when something is not… There is still a pervasive double standard. We need to puzzle out why women have made more strides in the public arena than in the private arena.” While young women are able to date more and create physical relationships quickly; ultimately, men continue to assume the power of determining the viability of the relationship and perceive the ability to “turn the tables” if they deem the woman worthy of dating.
Ultimately, Tinder success in satisfying the most carnal urges of its users, at the detriment of meaningful connections. As love becomes automated, users have an easier time finding more potential sexual encounters. However, these apps focus on quantity of matches and convenience of the opportunity, rather than providing relationships that bring emotional fulfillment. As young people break into new careers and explore new cities, they should remember that such apps serve desires for instant gratification in order to maintain impressive user bases. However, the ultimate emotional satisfaction still eludes the realm of technological automation and optimization. ﹥