Tinder: Is it a dating app, hook-up app or video game?

Tinder app user. Pic: Serina Sandhu

Tinder app user. Pic: Serina Sandhu

A few days away from Valentine’s, relentless singletons who will not resign themselves to spending Friday night uncoupled are taking to online dating websites en masse. In the mad rush for a last-minute date, quick fix app Tinder may seem a convenient option – but users’ experiences may prove it’s not the best remedy to mid-February solitude.

Labeled quite unceremoniously by many: “the hook-up app”, Tinder is a location-based system that allows users to scan their surroundings for potential partners, and then decide at the swipe of a finger if the nearby singles are a “yay” or a “nay”. No complex compatibility algorithms, or endless forms to fill.

If in the deluge of faces reciprocal interest is found, a match is made and the two people are put in contact. A date should seem assured, but things may not be that simple. Rather than pausing too long on the success, the app asks us if we want to keep swiping. And who could resist, with so many more faces to peek at?

That’s where Tinder starts becoming more of a game, and less of a dating app. Sure, many people have found casual sex and even love through it but for a lot of other users the app is little more than a rush-hour pastime to kill time.

“The fact that it is such a simple interface makes it very attractive to spend a spare minute or an hour” says Gina Stewart, online dating expert. “It’s a potential ego boost for those who are on the receiving end of a lot of right swipes. Like Pavlov’s dog on speed; instant reward and the gratification that you’re wanted by someone new.”

Since users are spared rejection, the feedback is always self-affirming. “It’s a brilliant move on the creators at Tinder because it drives incentive to come back, leaves users feeling more good than bad,” continues Stewart, “so people can easily get addicted to that positive, and oftentimes instant, affirmation of their self.  As a result, they don’t use it for a real connection to another human.”

Tinder user Laetitia Guillotin, 23-year-old gallery assistant from Deptford, agrees. “Whenever you get a match, it’s the same feeling you get when you win at Mario Bros on the Nintendo. It literally is like a videogame.”

She admits that she never even chats to 80 per cent of the people she “matches” with. “I’m not interested in hook-ups, in actually meeting the person – it’s just a virtual thing. People turn into mere online profiles that you might never meet. Because you keep flicking and flicking, you forget who you actually liked. Three seconds later you can’t even remember the guy.”

The game of prey-watching becomes even funnier if comments can be made in company, which for Guillotin, kills commitment: “Most of the time when I was on Tinder I was with friends, so it wasn’t even an intimate activity. It’s a bit like sitting in a café with your mates, looking at people passing by in front of the window. The only thing is that Tinder makes it easier by presenting you only with men in the demographics you select.”

Technology expert Dr Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation in the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London, thinks that the app is merely mimicking real life: “Dating sites have been focused on the ‘science’ of finding the right match using sophisticated analytics and this added complexity has put a lot of pressure and calculation on users. Tinder follows the current trend of ‘simplification’ in user interfaces by going mobile-first and putting the fun back in the hunt. It is more like looking for a date in a bar or tube carriage than in a science class.”

Guillotin does know one person who uses the app for dating: “He’s much older than me. He’s got dates with girls that are in their thirties, I get a feeling they seem to be taking it more seriously”. Whether it is a matter of age or dedication, some people must be taking their cyber-eye contacts off screen to justify the alleged half a billion matches that Tinder boasts.

Yet, Tinder remains a bit of a multi-purpose hybrid in a sea of websites that are growing more and more specialized. Its addictive simplicity, which fuels its booming popularity, has attracted a public that doesn’t usually “do” online dating and that therefore might not adhere to the etiquette.

“Most people just don’t know how to behave when talking online, not because they are brutal but just because they aren’t used to it. The horror stories you often hear – ‘I emailed and she never got back to me’ – simply would not happen face to face” says relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam. “Horses for courses”, she adds. “I don’t think Tinder will stop people using more serious dating websites.”

In fact, many Tinderites use the app because it doesn’t feel like ‘proper’ online dating (“we’ll say we met in a bar – it’s less weird” is a classic profile comment). “It’s the first time I do online dating,” admits Guillotin. “The only reason why I’m doing is because it’s so superficial. Which is why I just think eventually I’ll get bored of it in the same way that after a while I got tired of playing Angry Birds on my phone.”

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