Why does Tinder feel so sinister?

LET’S accept for a second that beginning new relationships is weird and difficult.

There are a number of immeasurable pratfalls that people are likely to (and almost certainly will) come across on their way to finding the person they may think of as the mystical “one”. A lot of the time one pratfall is usually not enough for those who let the butterflies in the stomach overwhelm them. This, naturally, is assuming that in the first place you’re able to find the confidence to act upon the initial desire. Its usually trickier for those who don’t drink, given it seems people have to be incredibly drunk to unlock the confidence it takes to open up.

It feels like more and more relationships now start electronically, though the atmosphere of the romantic bearpits that is the nightclub is hardly conductive to a healthy relationship in the first place. Online dating through places like Match, eHarmony and all the rest have been here for a long while, but dating sites seem to be reaching a larger portion of the singles community than before.

One curious, recent innovation is mobile phone app Tinder. This has been rolled out in the UK recently, and seems to be gaining traction.

The app has only been going for around two years, after being set up at a university party in California. It claims to be already finding 10 million matches a day, which at face value, seems like the perfect breeding ground for new romances.

Having not seen it, I was shown how it works while out last night when two friends set up a half-serious one for a third. For the uninitiated, it runs through a series of complex algorithms that trawl through the person’s Facebook account to find similarly available singles that use the thing, with their suitability based on likes and proximity. You then get to rate them with a swipe or a more conventional “hot or not” placing, and if both you and your fellow user like, you get to speak to one another.

It seems odd the idea of an app based on going through your social media footprint is gaining traction now. After all, its been barely six months since former American spy agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA, GCHQ and various other western world spying agencies use people’s social media profiles to spy on them, as part of an exceptionally elaborate spying rig on the world.

The popularity of these social media monoliths are not going to go anywhere soon. But at the same time, its a marker of how willing we are to comply, when revelations like this are met with even more apps getting to mine our social media profiles, as if to say people are happy to be followed by spy agencies because it means someone will actually read their social media output.

The app itself is a weird curiosity that almost feels voyeuristic. It reads off like the vintage “hot or not” lists you used to find of celebrities, and weirdly similar to the recently popularised Hot or Not app available for iPhone users. Watching it in motion means that it play like a slightly more technologically sophisticated version of the famed builder’s wolf-whistle, or drunken leering in a club.

Also like clubs at 2am, Tinder also reads like it plays into the hands of the casual fling. Lots of people are likely to be perusing through for available one-night stands, and even turning into such affairs. The uninitiated will certainly feel Tinder is primarily an app purely for casual sex.

It has a sinister affect because it can also mean rampant lying can take hold, and bring back familiar but more serious technological issues like stalkers and maniacs using it to find victims, or underage people lying to get in on the party.

But it also feels weird in that it essentially reduces dating and matters of the heart to a crude video game, where the more gorgeous avatars score the highest points.

That’s not to say some people can find romance on the thing. People have managed to negotiate this lurid minefield to find meaningful relationships. It means they’ve also managed to negotiate those lurid pratfalls, or at least take it seriously enough to realise its not the crude game it feels like.

Tinder just feels like a sinister mess that sometimes does yield romance if you play your cards extraordinarily right, which is not exactly an improvement on real life, despite its insistent advertising. If anything, it feels like a condensation of the club-based romantic experience, only without the 17 beers and the following morning’s hangover. Maybe that’s in the next update.


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