“The New York Times makes a big deal out of Tinder,” reads my own Tinder profile. After much egging from my friends, it was the New York Times that convinced me to download the app. It published Op-Eds, Modern Love columns, and Feature articles on the increasingly popular dating app, offering perspectives that ranged from psychological to political to just plain fuzzy.
A month ago, Modern Love’s Daniel Jones started publishing the winners of his college essay-writing contest — all of which centered if not, teetered around, Tinder. It was beginning to define my generation. I had to find out the fuss.
Data from The New York Times say that as of 2014, there were over 50 million active users on Tinder. It was processing more than a billion swipes a day, and matching more than 12 million people at the same time. Not just that, Tinder was becoming as addicting as Facebook. People were logging into the app 11 times a day: women spent 8.5 minutes per session swiping, and men 7.2 minutes. If you add it up, the average person spends around 90 minutes per day on Tinder. My first impression was that its popularity (or effectivity) is largely due to its Match feature. Attraction had to be mutual before you can even start talking. And mutuality is such a crucial element of dating, or of love.
Tinder’s founders Jonathan Badeen and Sean Rad think that others made a mistake of making their apps immediately about compatibility; they sold their apps on an algorithm that could supposedly find you your soulmate based on your hobbies and interests. Tinder didn’t care about that; they banked on physical attraction because they claimed that’s really how people meet — and hook up — in real life.
That’s where I found the problem. It felt being put in an aquarium with a million other women and having men on the other side of the glass judge me for just my looks. The feature was very similar to Facemash.com, Mark Zuckerberg’s first website that took photos of women in Harvard, put them in twos, and had users rate who was hotter. Zuckerberg took the website down after Harvard’s administrative board accused him of breaching security, violating copyrights and violating individual privacy. The real crime, I think, was that he insulted and offended women.
Fast forward to Tinder where it now includes men who have to be judged based on their attractiveness. And unlike Facemash, Tinder users willingly subject themselves to it. In an article on NYT titled In Defense of Tinder, the writer recognizes that the app was superficial. His defense? It was honest.
It is honest because it is based on a cruel reality how we regard physical appearance. That it determines what and who we’re good for. It is honest, but it is right?
According to the American Psychological Association (APA): “Attractive people are treated more positively than unattractive people.” It is a conversation that has long existed. Social experiments have been made, advocacies have been formed, but it continues to be true. And when you have an app like Tinder reinforcing that bias, and people think it’s okay because it’s honest, then we have a problem. Tinder is not the only perpetrator. And shallow is not the only thing we’ve become since the rise of the Internet.
Because of social networking, we’ve become uncivilized, desensitized, and not only that, we have lost regard for educated discussion and gave limitless platform to uninformed (and dangerous) opinions, and made people think that just because they have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Youtube, they were free to publish anything.
Yesterday, a grown and educated woman had overheard a conversation between three friends who she described were in their early 40s. The women were discussing juicy details over their love lives and the woman at the next table felt it was necessary, or funny, or entertaining, and worse, that it was within her rights to broadcast that conversation and publish their real names. And for what? For internet novelty.
The middle class is also continuously amused by Facebook posts of the supposed lower class exposing their bad grammar or tasteless manners. That these posts may have been gathered and reposted without permission is already a problem. But what I find alarming is that people feel that it’s okay. It’s okay because it’s honest.
To quote Aaron Sorkin: “the upside of web-based journalism is that everybody gets a chance. The downside is that everybody gets a chance.” If this is the Internet populace we have to deal with then I would be scared of giving everyone the chance to disseminate anything they wanted to.
On the last season of The Newsroom, Sorkin went on a rant that went as far as calling the Internet as “faceless mobs.” When a reporter tweeted an insensitive political joke that insulted Republicans, and the families of those who died and were hurt in the Boston Marathon bombing, the reporter said the value of the joke was that it would be retweeted. To quote the character of Sloan Sabbith, as long as we are tolerating it and participating in it, we are turning into “a wild pack of prideless punks.”
One day on Facebook I castigated a friend for tolerating and participating. His reaction, though meant as a joke, was a revelation: “No wonder you’re always swiped left.” You swipe a person left if you found him/her unattractive, and right if you found him/her attractive. It was a reference to Tinder and how this is not only a lonely fight, it is an unattractive fight. It is a reference to how we regard voyeurism, bullying, gossip in the internet, and by connection, in real life: it is okay because it is honest.
It is unfair to loop it all back to Tinder. Its founders and its users just want a socializing tool that is accessible and functional, and one that’s effective.
There are many good people out there, people who you’re compatible with, people with quirks and weird interests you thought only you had, people you could love, or at the least, people you can be friends with. It is very tempting to stay on, and make more connections you couldn’t have otherwise made in real life. I told one of my “matches” that Tinder works and less frowned upon now because we have accepted that people no longer meet organically. The dating app community has also been cleaned off of perverts and now the people on it are the same people you could meet at a bar or a coffee shop or a bookstore. In fact, they’re the same people you could be friends with, and many are actually your friends.
The line between virtual and real is becoming thinner and thinner, and one day we won’t be able to tell them apart.
But that’s what scares me. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be attractive first, before anything else. It may be a small step or one that may be seen as hypocritical but I’m quitting Tinder. I’m quitting swiping. I’m quitting the circus that makes us look like we’re just hunting flesh. I’m quitting an apparatus that makes our cruelty okay, because it is honest.
In its merits, Tinder is a powerful tool. Because the Internet is a powerful thing.
I have always advocated for social media, but I have switched teams. I’m now on the side that believes its power has to be reined in. And people have to be reminded about ethics, civility, sensitivity and decency. We have to be reminded that an app isn’t all it takes, in fact it is very little of what it takes, to determine whether a person is to be swiped left, and whether the virtue of swiping is at all valid or good.
Note: Apologies to my “matches” who have become involuntary subjects for research. I wish you all well in your quest for good conversation.
About the Author
Lian Nami Buan is the Associate Editor of SubSelfie.com. She leads the #SubStory and #TanawMindanao segments of the website. She also produces special reports for State of the Nation with Jessica Soho. She wants to shift focus to human rights, particularly indigenous people, women and migration. Whenever she has money, she travels to collect feelings for writing material. Journalism 2010, UST. Read more of her articles here.