So for yesterday’s class, our group was assigned to read about the future of Facebook. Not surprisingly, the reading talked a lot about successful acquisitions and technology to come, but what really struck me was the emphasis on the humanness that guided the company from its incipience and will be leading it toward a better future. It’s easy to overlook the importance of emotional connection when techy things like VR and AI are introduced to us at such a fast rate and big updates are around every corner. However, at the core of long-running, ever-evolving, successful business models is a true, wholehearted interest in human connection. And we always come back looking for ways to enhance our relationships, despite on what platform or using what technology.
There are (and I’m sure there always will be) ongoing debates on whether social media is dehumanizing our interactions and the way we care for one another. Given that Valentine’s day is approaching, I thought this would be an appropriate time to discuss how social media is influencing the formation of relationships.
Last year, I did a brief experiment comparing two major players on the virtual matchmaking scene, Tinder and Bumble.
Aside from my personal curiosity The main goals were to find out why these apps were so popular, what kind of users were on them, how people interacted with strangers on it compared to how they would elsewhere, like Tumblr and Reddit.
Before sharing my thoughts on online love, I wanted to touch on the interesting background these two apps have. They resemble each other in the interface design, monetization features, and of course, the idea behind their very existence, because they more or less come from the same person. Whitney Wolfe was one of the four cofounders of Tinder in 2012, but she resigned from the company after breaking up with her “verbally controlling and abusive” manager boyfriend. She ended up in lawsuit with Tinder, but after she came out of it with more than $1 mil + stock, she moved onto the next one and created Bumble in 2014.
Especially given the history, it’s interesting to see the overlaps and contrasts between the two. First off, in order to use the apps at all, you need to have a Facebook account, so people feel less concerned about the realness of other users on the platform. Although there still exist fake accounts and photos since you can upload directly from your phone, the Facebook authentication filters out the first wave of easily-makable scam accounts. You change the settings based on your preference of distance, age group, and gender, which decides what potential match candidates are going to show up on your screen. From there, the most crucial element is the swipe. Left is no and right is good, based on 3-5 photos and maybe a description if you have the patience to read. If you swipe right on someone and he/she swiped right on you as well, you have a match. This is where the two apps are really different: who makes the first move? Tinder does not limit you from doing anything on the app; if you want to send a message, you send. On the other hand, on Bumble, only women can start a conversation (given that the match is not same-sex) and are given 24 hours until the match expires. Over time, Tinder has come to be more associated with less romantic, cursory kind of meet-ups, while Bumble is supposed to be not as thoughtless and somehow classier.
These dating apps have been widely criticized for their superficiality, since the swipes are solely based on appearance. Countless articles and columns have been written on the psychological and sociological problems that are entailed in online shopping for people, and how it’s changed the nature of values in our society. At the same time, it’s also an increasingly normalized trend, perhaps so integrated into how people interact that we’ve reached a point of dating-app fatigue. According to Pew Research Center, online dating in 18-24-year-olds increased from 10% to 27% between 2013 and 2016, and it’s continued to be a very lucrative industry since 2001. We as a society are getting more and more familiarized and open-minded toward online dating, compared to how stigmatized it was when the Internet was a much less identifiable universe. We now have the means of discovering, verifying, scoping out, evaluating through our virtual presence and its connections, at least most of the time.
The online dating game emerged rapidly and has changed so much in such a short period of time, and will continue to do so especially with access to technology in AI. When the algorithms can find out exactly what we want even better than we ourselves could, what will happen? Will they be realer to the extent that at one point, none of us will even bother to try and date “the hard way”? As every technological change comes with panic and displeasure, people were worried about cell phones shaping our relationships but we turned out to be ok, right? No? Up for debate? My point is that I haven’t see people having a difficult time trying to communicate in real life because they’re only used to receiving e-mails an typing in emojis, yet.
I still haven’t decided whether I am a fan of dating apps—I ended up deleting one and rarely ever using the other—but I’m a fan of their finding principles. Not just in terms of romantic relationships but more so in us a chance to reach out in ways we couldn’t in real life because it would be too weird or intimidating or something. I mean, if we think about it, we swipe left and right in our heads each time we see someone; it’s an evolutionary mechanism to recognize and evaluate potential mates. But still, I hate that the biggest appeal comes from the shallow, efficiency-based nature of our generation. So whether you use online dating or not, this isn’t a negligible phenomenon, and I think we should talk more about it. What do you guys think about online love?