- Holly Kellner
“So how did you two meet?”
It’s the classic question that bombards couples everywhere when introducing their significant others to family and friends. Twenty years ago, you might tell your family that you bumped into each other at a coffee shop or were close friends-turned boyfriend/girlfriend. In the digital age, however, online dating and apps like Tinder serve as the initial point of contact for many.
If you haven’t heard of Tinder, it’s time to get up to speed. Tinder is a dating app created in September 2012. You download the free app for your iPhone and log in through Facebook. Set a radius around your current location, pop in your sexual preference, and presto! You, my friend, are ready to Tinder. You browse a couple of photos, a short description, age, and a list of mutual Facebook friends. You then swipe right if you’re interested or left if you’re not. If two people both swipe right for each other, a “match” is made and you can privately message each other.
While to some Tinder may seem to promise an easy way to meet, I’ve never been able to hop on the bandwagon. My friends mock me for being “old fashioned,” but I’d like to think that love and relationships mean more than swiping right or left on an iPhone screen. To make sure I wasn’t really missing out, I let a few of my girlfriends convince me to download the app over spring break. After 24 hours of swiping left to about 85% of the individuals and receiving a handful of messages from the few “right swipers,” I deleted the app from my phone. The concept and experience felt artificial. I am the exception to the online articles, which “ guarantee that once you try it, you will be hooked.”
According to The New York Times, Tinder is downloaded more than 20,000 times a day and has made over 20 million matches. (“Tinder, a Dating App with a Difference”, by Jenna Wortham, 26 February 2013 ) The popular app’s creator contends that its central concept is human connection and therefore it is simply a new means of meeting and connecting. Each user is ultimately attempting to get to know someone new, whether the end goal is physical, a long-term relationship, or otherwise. One distinction between Tinder and real-life, face-to-face interactions is the initial encounter. You miss out on the possibly inelegant and nerve-racking first encounter with a potential mate. On Tinder the feedback is instantaneous; you know from the get-go when you match with someone that you both find each other attractive, no uncertainty necessary. “I wonder if he likes me back” is eradicated. According to Jon Lisi, The New York Times “is wise to point out that these matches don’t necessarily lead to a real-life encounter or long-lasting relationship, as the dating service doesn’t follow up with users after they are digitally paired. Still, Tinder’s popularity is proof that people are turning to social media technologies to increase their dating odds.” Tinder’s chief executive declares that the app “solves the problem of helping you get acquainted with new people you want to know.” Does the elimination of awkward first encounters make dating less intimate? According to Lisi, “it doesn’t appear so…[since] people still have the ability and freedom to approach a potential mate the old-fashioned way.” He is correct that people still have this freedom, but the people who do use Tinder are sustaining a technologically reliant relationship with the world around them. Dating apps like Tinder are transforming the way we perceive relationships. According to a Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, 24 percent of today’s Internet users have reported flirting with someone online, compared to 15 percent in 2009. Dating has become almost anomalous with social networks and digital sites. The fear is that our generation may soon find itself limited to these digital mediums. Technology becomes a dangerous buffer for our insecurities, removing us from the rewards of real-life experiences and relationships.
Furthermore, as claimed by Cornell University’s Steven Strogatz, “the distinction between genuine friends and acquaintances is becoming blurred. Users are spending time maintaining relationships with people they don’t really care about.” Numerous casual relationships take the place of earnest and enduring ones. Tinder enables us to forgo real-world interactions and conduct our social lives through screens and wires.
But the problems with Tinder extend beyond the iPhone to first meetings. Personal info on Tinder is limited and quite possibly inaccurate. Amidst all of the successes, there are an abundance of horror stories. A friend of mine thought she had found the perfect boyfriend on Tinder. He promised her penthouse hotel room stays, front row tickets to concerts and expensive dinners. Only later, did she discover that her “perfect” man was funding their romance with stolen money—embezzling funds from credit cards and bank accounts—including one belonging to her grandmother. She still uses the app, but hopefully with a bit more precaution.
Another friend deleted the app but saved the numbers of boys that she had been matched with. Later, she met up with them for sex, sometimes going to strangers’ apartments. Not only does meeting up with strangers carry the risk of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, it also has the potential to condone cyber stalking and bullying. While this may be not be worse than drunkenly going home with a stranger, Tinder still facilitates unwanted sexual and emotional advances. It expands the radius of potential hookups from the length of a frat house basement to ten miles.
More than half of my college friends are on Tinder. This isn’t a coincidence. Tinder was strategically targeted at college students because, as creator Justin Mateen states: “as someone who’s younger in high school, you want to be a college kid. And a lot of adults are envious of college kids too.” In the coming years, Tinder has the potential to grow even bigger. Though a whopping 54 percent of all Tinder users are between the ages of 18 and 24, I remain less convinced than my peers. To the rest of the world, you can keep swiping your screens. Maybe someday, when your grandma asks you how you and your fiancé met, you can smile at each other and reply, “we both swiped right.”