Well, kids, it all started when your mother swiped right, and the rest is history. It’s safe to say “How I Met Your Mother” would have been far less interesting had it occurred in 2021. With the growing popularity of dating applications, it’s important to take a step back and attempt to better understand the role of technology in developing and sustaining relationships.
Technology has created a new culture of communication in more ways than one. Beyond dating applications like Tinder, Bumble or Hinge, every relationship has essentially added a third party privy to every text argument or Snapchat exchange. The middleman in question is, of course, a cell phone.
Since the first cell phones started to be utilized more commonly in the mid-1980s, it’s overwhelming to see how far technology has come from the clunky, portable home phone akin to what Zack Morris carried in “Saved by the Bell.” The introduction of smartphones expanded the capabilities of portable devices and permanently changed the way we communicate.
Now, in 2021, phones have become second nature. Social media is a major force of information, whether it be to initiate a conversation, broker a business deal or even document major events of life. The effect this has had on relationships is applicable to more than just romantic or relationship-oriented interactions. However, the specific concept of dating apps can be highlighted as a particularly intriguing piece in this puzzle of technological relationship development. In a real sense, a new culture has emerged. This culture has, in many ways, increased the demands of a relationship. Rather than being expected to communicate only when a house phone, payphone or in-person conversation was accessible, significant others now depend on an almost constant stream of conversation since a large portion of the world’s population owns a smartphone of some kind.
The ability to communicate regularly definitely has pros and cons. While it provides the ability to (somewhat) conquer loneliness and likely acted as a pseudo-presence through arguably one of the most isolating times in human history (the pandemic), a study at the University of Arizona found that the increase of smartphone dependence has also negatively impacted the societal rate of loneliness and depression in young adults.
There are many reasons why this could be the case. Social media like Instagram and dating applications like Tinder are inherently prime ways to affect self-esteem in impressionable young users. The nature of popular dating applications prompts the user to “swipe right” or “match” with other users they find immediately attractive or enticing with very little background information. This kind of surface-level judgment can be detrimental to the way we view those around us and even the way we view ourselves.
Delving a bit deeper, there have been many studies that examine how social media can have a detrimental effect on self-esteem. A major component to this has to do with upward comparison and the validation associated with social media user interaction. The upward comparison refers to when a person harshly compares themselves to someone they deem better in some way. With social media, this is even further amplified as most profiles represent the edited, touched-up version of a person’s life making them appear even more “perfect” in any comparison. The validation is specific to each application, but whether it’s likes, views or friend requests you seek, they are ultimately meaningless numbers occupying far too much real estate in our brains.
That said, there is something almost indescribably fun about dating apps as well. The ability to instantaneously connect with people with similar interests or intentions is something that early smartphone developers probably never thought would happen. Overall, there is something to be said about the positive aspects of dating application culture, and on a larger scale, the ability to make connections through the use of technology. Especially on college campuses, different dating apps have different purposes and exist within different contexts. While Tinder is arguably more of a hook-up app than, say, Bumble, it is possible that either or both produce similar end results.
The idea of hookup culture is something that has been analyzed through many different studies. In particular, the potential correlation between hook-up culture and mental health issues has surfaced through multiple perspectives. This extremely comprehensive study discusses the guilt and “hookup regret” that many people experience after an uncommitted sexual encounter. This feeling is often a result of fear of societal judgment or conversely, societal pressure to engage in unwanted behavior. This uncomfortable environment is a perfect breeding ground for harmful stigmas.
As with many stigmatized situations, there is no right answer. To put it plainly, if you don’t hook up with people casually, you’re a prude. However, if you do, be sure to keep it within the confines of this ‘perfect number of partners’ if you don’t want to be labeled a “slut.” People should have the autonomy to make personal decisions without this constant judgment. Ultimately, the most important takeaway is to ignore any stigma that has or continues to make you feel guilty or uncomfortable using any of these apps. Psychology Professor William Chopik of Michigan State University is a fervent supporter of dating applications: “At the very least, they provide good opportunities to meet people.”
At the end of the day, the individual attachments we have all formed with our phones have opened up a universe of possibilities. Through applications like Facebook or LinkedIn, we expand our professional and personal network. Through TikTok and Twitter, we allow ourselves to laugh and engage in social commentary on the ever-changing world around us. It’s time to rewrite the narrative that dating (or hookup) applications are shallow or pathetic. If nothing else, they provide the chance to be exposed to many new people in a very short time frame. As a Ted Mosby-sympathizer, I’d also really like a nine-season story to tell my kids someday about how I met their father, but that does not and should not mean I can’t use the technology at my fingertips to — if nothing else — live a little.
Jess D’Agostino is an Opinion columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.