Tinder and 1984

In its drive to make love as convenient as ordering an Uber, the tech sector has tried two different approaches: brainy and superficial. But you won't find the future of dating in 2014. You'll find it in 1984.
11/15/2014 05:20 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2015

The following blog post is from an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation-funded filmmaker. From Nov. 14-16, the Sloan Foundation and Film Independent will host the 2014 Sloan Film Summit at L.A. Live in Los Angeles. The Summit celebrates the thriving nationwide Sloan film program, bringing together 150 screenwriters, directors and producers, as well as representatives from leading film schools and film organizations, who work to bridge the gap between science and popular culture. Learn more at www.SloanSummit2014.org

In its drive to make love as convenient as ordering an Uber, the tech sector has tried two different approaches: brainy and superficial. But you won't find the future of dating in 2014. You'll find it in 1984.

Team brainy came first. In 2011, when I first started writing my film about a virtual wingwoman app, OKCupid had just sold to IAC Corp for $90 million dollars. Their website and others like Match.com and eHarmony match people based on "compatibility" data from a mountain of questions that make you want to take the SAT to the prom. Not only do your answers matter but the questions you choose to answer matter too. The algorithms are proprietary, but it boils down to similars attract.

It works. Sort of. In his new book Dataclysm, Christian Rudder, the co-founder of OKCupid, counts that "40,000 couples will have their first date because of [the site]" and "two hundred of those will get married". While those connections are impressive, it means you have to go on a date with an average of 200 different people to meet the one (who you still have roughly a 50 percent chance of divorcing). Data is very good at making initial connections. As a Math PhD at UCLA, Chris McKinlay optimized his OKCupid profile using data harvesting bots. He went from receiving a couple of messages from interested women a week to getting 400 messages a day. But like a bad romcom, data didn't find him his match. The love of his life found him when she searched for "6-foot guys with blue eyes near UCLA".

A point for team superficial? They have a completely different theory on what makes us connect. Tinder, a mobile app, has matched 12 million people in its two years of operation based on a single metric: your picture. There are virtually no profiles or questionnaires on the service. You simply swipe someone's picture if you like it, and if they do the same then you get their number. The smart money has moved to the "dumb" strategy. TechCrunch recently estimated Tinder could be worth more than $750 million.

We want contradictory things when it comes to love. We want it to be serendipitous, mysterious, and "at first sight" but we also want it to be based on our shared experiences, perspectives, and dreams. With APP I tried to show how this mad contradiction makes any predictable approach impossible. But when you make any movie about technology, you run the risk that your message becomes dated (see: You've Got Mail).

When I first wrote the movie, I asked myself how I would make a dating app. Joke-cracking AIs like Siri were all the rage in 2011 so I thought Siri meets OKCupid with the ease of Tinder would be the future. Today after Facebook's IPO, IBM's Watson beating us at Jeopardy, the NSA spying everywhere outside, and the iWatch spying everywhere inside, my dating app would be very different. I would force every user to give up their Facebook and gmail password then have a heartless machine analyze you for moral character and sexual proclivities. My app would also require a personal fitness band and publicly shame users who fail to work out or have perspiration problems. Only the best people would sign up because they have nothing to hide. It would be like speed dating in Orwell's 1984.

If I had to make App again, it wouldn't be a romcom. It would be a horror movie.

Watch the trailer for APP.