I hate to be the luddite, reliably heaping fear and loathing on new technology. Sadly, while I am broadly very in favour of technological innovation, I am utterly appalled by what it's doing for singles. Dating and mating platforms have gone from a "numbers game" to just "game" -- with no shame whatsoever. It's like we're all being dragged into the lowest common denominator of masculine playtime values. World of Warcraft isn't enough -- now meeting the opposite sex has to look like gaming. Not gaming in the metaphorical sense that Neil Strauss, gross pick up artist guru, talked about it. But in the sense of actual games, gambling games. The coincidence and ubiquity of Chat Roulette and Tinder have made this abundantly clear.
Chat Roulette, or excuse me, Chatroulette, "is a place where you can interact with new people over text-chat, webcam and mic." It is not bounded by geographical location. Your screen pans through all the people on video and up for a "chat" and if you like the look of them (my guess is that someone's impressive collection of Tolstoy in the background isn't what's going to stop most people), you stop and "chat." If "chat" isn't a word that hasn't been utterly dirtified by the internet, then OkCupid is a Jane Austen novel.
Tinder is hugely popular. Have you see Tinder? Tinder is what moves me to opine on "what technology is doing to us" or rather, what we (read: Sean Rad and Justin Mateen, aged 27, co-founders of Tinder) are doing to technology.
Tinder is modeled on a card game. There's no going back. You set the geographical location to whatever you want -- two miles, 89 miles -- and press go. The satellite thinks and loads, then you rifle, literally rifle, through a deck of faces. If you swipe left, you're binning the face, and a red stamp "nope" appears on the face. If you swipe left out of inertia, retrospectively deciding the person's face you just binned was maybe a bit nice, maybe showed a glimmer of humanity that you were interested in, well too bad -- they're GONE man. Onwards. Next. Next. Next. Next. Next. Click the heart symbol or swipe right and in Valentine's Hallmark letters it tells you "you're a match!" What does "you're a match" mean? It means that the man you have clicked yes to also clicked yes to you when he saw your face moments before you saw his (the wonders of the algorithm). That means he liked your face -- or he didn't not like it -- or vastly and obviously more likely, he lazily inferred that if there was nobody else available he'd shag you (if he could be bothered) if your face is anything to go by. Once you're "a match!" you can message the person.
And that's it. It's completely bonkers because what happens is that clicking "yes" to a face, or rather, not binning a face, is absolutely identical in output or cost or inflowing knowledge to any other movement on the phone requiring one single flick of the thumb. So when you message the person (of eight or so "matches," none messaged me first), they respond with a chronically uncharming message because, surprise surprise, you have nothing to talk about at all. You both did not swipe right, you clicked the heart symbol. That's what you have in common. Nobody cares much about anything on Tinder -- least of all other people -- and why should they? There's always a deck of faces to go back to. Rifling takes no effort.
Tinder has been hailed as a "more honest" form of digital dating than Internet dating because you get rejected and can reject so easily. Nobody cares about the profile anyway, it's said, and therefore it's only the picture that counts. But this is a false justification -- checking someone out and thinking their face is nice in real life is a much better investment of time. You can see immediately if they're enormously fat, have a terrible snarl when talking to their mates or dead eyes. And if they really are attractive, then they really ARE attractive to you. They might have binned you on Tinder, but if you charm them, there is room for negotiation. By contrast, Tinder shows you a face and asks you to stamp it yay or nay while watching TV or masturbating or whatever people do -- so static, rigid.
It's more honest in the nightmare world of misleading pictures and binned faces that it has created, yes.
It's not more honest in terms of the enigmatic mechanics of co-present attraction.
To end, I'd like to just remind you that Tinder, Blendr and every single last online dating site bar MySingleFriend is the product of MEN. Male business school graduates, male engineers, male visionaries, male techies. Just saying. If women enjoy the feeling of thumbing a face into oblivion and the only very thin fulfillment possible when a message is exchanged, then great. But part of me wonders if Tinder's followers are just -- out of a combination of exhaustion and dutiful trend consumerism -- just giving in to the dehumanizing wet dream of a bunch of American boys.
Follow Zoe Strimpel on Twitter: www.twitter.com/zstrimpel