Swiping Past the Small-Talk

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Elizabeth Harris
Elizabeth Harris

I have witnessed my friend play the game of swiping left or right for potential dates again and again. From afar, I judged the dating app Tinder to be superficial.

Tinder works by showing you a series of profiles of other individuals who have the app in your area. Each profile shows up to five photos the individual chooses from their Facebook, their age, proximity to you and up to 500 characters of bio. As you scroll through the photos, you swipe to the right if you like the person’s profile, or left if you don’t. If someone you liked also liked your profile, you’re a “match.” From there you can further view their profile and message them through the app.

Because young adults are used to getting information and entertainment whenever they want from inside their pockets, why wouldn’t we try to date in the same manner? Technology and smartphones have become our comfort zone for interacting with the world, so it makes sense when faced with an often awkward and uncomfortable facet of life, we too turn to these devices for answers.

The shallowness of the app is an easy criticism, but still a good one. It’s hard to judge people from just a few, often-doctored photographs. But as a college student, I can see the draw — our libidos are flaming and sex is definitely on many individual’s to-do lists — it’s just a reality of our age group. Who’s going to say no to looking at aesthetically pleasing people? We do it every day, on the street, in classes and in bars. And flirting with no risk of rejection? Yeah, it’s making sense now.

What disturbed me more than those aspects is the anonymity. You don’t have to deal with the guilt of judging and rejecting someone. With this screen of protection, risks are no longer risks.

While bothered by the concept, I was still intrigued, the hormone-addled college student that I am. So I made a Tinder account and, I admit, became a hardcore addict for 2 days. Person after person I swiped left and right, left and right, looking at their faces and bios. But I would also swipe through 20 profiles — because that’s what they were, profiles, not people — in just a few seconds without looking back. I had Tinder eyes.

So I started to wonder, why was I so into it?

The way we interact with the world today is wildly different because of technology. With smartphones, globalization and the Internet, we have everything at our fingertips all the time. Everything happens in seconds and the immediacy of information feeds the way we move forward. So, it’s not a huge surprise we want a way to interact with love and sex through that same lens.

While over half of the U.S. population has smartphones, the vast majority of these users are younger adults. Around an average of 80 percent of adults ages 18-29 with a variety of incomes have smartphones according to the report “Smartphone Ownership — 2013 Update” by the Pew Research Center.

In conjunction with this, another change in our society is people are getting married later and later. The average age of marriage is higher than it has ever been — at around 27 for women and 29 for men, according to another recent study by the Pew Research Center.

Now, I can’t claim marriage declines are related to apps like Tinder. However, Tinder’s popularity, especially with ages 18-24, which makes up half of its audience, does suggest people who are no longer marrying young still want to make connections — whether for conversation, ego boosts, sex or even love. But now we want it on a mass scale from the convenience of our headphone-clad bus ride home, or in our solitary wait in line for an espresso.

The funny thing was despite Tinder’s shallow nature, a lot of the people I met did treat Tinder somewhat romantically. Many of my “matches” thought they were the exception, admitting that Tinder was a shallow app, but you might get lucky and meet “someone cool like me,” one said. Granted, a lot of people just want to get laid, let’s be real. But the app seems to be a combination of people’s longing for a connection and a satiating of their immediate sexual wants.

The app does not drastically change the way we treat others either. On Tinder, I found all kinds of people — one guy asked me if I was trying to talk or hook-up and told me I looked like “a real trouble maker,” and another match was a tech manager and pro biker who didn’t have much time to meet girls but seemed genuinly interested in what I had to say. These are similar to the types of people I meet in classes and coffee shops. The difference is, with less time and less emphasis put on serious relationships at a younger age, Tinder allows people a backup plan to get in on the action.