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Notebook: The superficiality of online dating amplified by new Tinder app

By Carlina Duan, Daily Community Culture Editor
Published March 20, 2013

“So, Tinder … is that all the rage on college campuses these days?”

Across the table, my professor and his colleague gaze at me intently. I’m puncturing mozzarella balls with a plastic fork, surrounded by middle-aged, wine-sipping writers at a conference in Boston. I stare into my champagne cup of water. Gesture towards the air with my hands. “Well,” I say, “I mean … It’s treated sarcastically. Nobody takes Tinder seriously.”

On later thought, though, is Tinder viewed as a joke at universities? Or is it just me? After all, on a campus as huge as the University’s, speed dating — whether in person or online — seems to be gaining momentum. And the fact that I was even asked such a question could mean the app is peeling off its obscurity.

When my friend showed me the Tinder app on her iPhone last month, my immediate reaction was disgust.

Tinder, self-described as “a fun way to break the ice,” is an online mobile dating service, used to connect one with potential partners. On the official Tinder website, the app lauds itself as an “all anonymous” process, “until someone you like, likes you back.” Think of it as a digital Matchmaker of some sorts, only instead of qualifying your date through shared interest, Tinder brings together those with mutual physical attraction.

But it’s not completely anonymous. Various facts — such as your first name, your relative geographic location — are given. By linking up one’s Facebook account to Tinder, people scroll through the Facebook profile pictures of other Tinder users located nearby. Beneath each picture is a “heart” button and an “X” button. Click the “heart” if you’re looking at a hottie; “X” out that person, if not. If both users click “hearts” for one another, Tinder will enable the two to chat within the App. Thus, Tinder is “anonymous” in the sense that it won’t notify you if others click “X” or a “heart.”

When I first glanced at the app, I felt dumb and elderly. And worst of all: exposed. I don’t have a Tinder account. Still, I found myself swiping through Tinder users on my friend’s iPhone — staring at the profiles of people I knew, and strangers — with incredulity. “People actually use this shit?” I hollered.

But, then again, why was I so surprised? With the rise of “selfie” photo apps like Snapchat and the emphasis on Facebook profile pictures, is it really so shocking that Tinder exists? Today’s generation of iPhone-bearing, Instagram-ing, photo-snapping college kids is very much one that loves to look at others — and be looked at.

When the other person clicks the “like” button, we’re delighted. Apps like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Tinder make us feel temporarily wanted. Yet simultaneously, there’s an undercurrent of “public” judgment occurring with Tinder that doesn’t happen as noticeably with other apps. While mediums like Facebook still lack a “dislike” button, Tinder is new in offering a way to reject — “X” out — a love interest.

True, Tinder is an online dating device. And yes, it links people together. I’m sure there are multiple love stories that have occurred across online or digital contexts, and I’m not condemning them. My problem with apps like Tinder is an obvious one: It grants permission for those in our culture to rate others based on physical appearance, and furthermore, it teaches us how to slash an “X” on those we find unattractive (too old, too short, too much facial hair).

It teaches us that dating, then, is a process of physical attraction and only physical attraction. Judgment has always been ingrained within our culture. In fact, judging others is a natural tendency. Yet, in more recent years, it seems as if this judgment is more public than it ever has been before. To say I’m uncomfortable with Tinder is perhaps too plain a statement. It propagates “ugly” or “pretty” judgment — putting everybody on a scale. But I’m more uncomfortable with the fact that, in our generation, attraction can be used or dismissed with the swipe of a finger.

Maybe I’m tying in too much tradition with dating. After all, speed dating — which is essentially what Tinder is — is supposed to be fast, harmless and convenient.

And with Tinder, after all, it’s not like you’re really getting to know the person. You’re only looking at a picture, deciding hot or not, which most of us already do on an everyday basis. And because of this, rejection might not be as stinging as it could be in a real-life context.

But it creeps me out to think of all those eyes on a screen, unfamiliar ones, that we’re allowing to judge us. For me, the “heart” and the “X” buttons are demeaning. When it comes to first-time dating, I’d rather look at the face of a person and have them look back at me. Conversations on a screen are too fleeting for me, lack meaning and usually take on a much different attitude than conversations in real life.

I’m not sure about the future of Tinder. In cities where young lovers flock, cities like Los Angeles and New York, it seems to be on a trending rise. But I’m positive I won’t be getting an account. The prospect of strangers’ eyes — glossing me over, swiping me in or out — makes me view Tinder with sarcasm, with annoyance and, yeah, with a little fear.


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