Why you Tinder on campus

Opinion by Caitie Karasik
Feb. 4, 2015, 9:18 p.m.

When did dating become a calculated dance of downloads and uploads? In the same way that Facebook and other networking sites have reinvented social relationships, the new landscape of dating online has revolutionized how we find and evaluate potential partners, and what we expect of them.

However odd it may have seemed just a couple of years ago to seek out a randomized pool of profiles, especially on a campus of eligible students, the ever-expanding list of apps is the status quo of millennial courtship. The driving forces behind this transformation shed light on the fears that make it more and more difficult to date – online or otherwise.

The revolution began in the early 2000s with sites like match.com. As the number of cell phone users with near-constant internet access in the US rose steadily, competitors fought for users. A decade later, Americans began to spend more time on mobile apps than web platforms, and in the past two years, messaging and social media became the highest growing categories of app usage. The shift of dating from mere online presence to increasingly individualistic apps has coincided with the general shift of social life from online to app-based activity.

The current state of dating apps has an overwhelming queue of options to choose from, and even the ones supposedly meant for niche markets have become mainstream. Tinder, the once-chastised source of hookups, is now a requisite weapon for the arsenal of the young 20-something. Trying out one app leaves something to be desired, encouraging us to accumulate more and more apps and curate more and more profiles.

It’s easy to see these profiles as pastiche reflections of a postmodern identity seeking coherence. It’s also easy to reject these apps as bastions of hookup culture. This may be harmful because it leaves no incentive to communicate openly or establish meaningful relationships, even when casual by mutual agreement.

No matter how much these apps come to dominate our social lives, they are all the same. They provide the same conceptual opportunity in slightly different practical configurations. The process by which apps integrate into the mating world does perpetuate a distinctly postmodern anxiety about knowing who we are by projecting versions of ourselves in various formats. And this same process perpetuates a hookup culture that relies on relationships based on sexual gains and losses – power plays. But instead of looking at their effects, let’s place the intentions of these apps in context.

The most obvious source of attraction for these apps is ease. It’s far simpler to present oneself idealistically through these portals than through the murkier waters of face-to-face interaction. Not to mention, it’s far less confusing to navigate a guaranteed “like” compared to the evasive routine of glances and greetings. Plus, a manageable but constant stream of options offers more opportunity than a limited couple of hours at a bar or club.

The fact that dating apps seem easier to handle than “real” sources of dates does not diminish their value. Apps don’t remove the anticipation or nerves of a date. They don’t make it any less embarrassing to say the wrong thing. The primary difference between an offer on the street and an offer on a phone is how the two people were introduced – connected by chance versus an algorithm. And maybe seeking ease is not such a bad thing if it means more people can connect.

The reason millennials in particular seek ease in a dating app is not just to amplify the number of connections. Rather, it is to assuage a valid fear that meeting in person is too risky. It’s risky because we assume that the only thing we’re allowed to ask of the people we meet in person is sexual, not personal.

There’s something very disturbing about the fact that if two students on the same campus both want a relationship, serious or not, they turn to technology to reveal themselves. Just two years ago, before Tinder and a slew of other apps like OkCupid, the dating scene at Stanford and other college campuses presumably functioned without the help of a geo-tracker. The existence of a hookup culture, that many have glorified and others denigrated, should not eliminate the possibility for other ways of connecting. Dating apps are not a negative addition to student culture, but it is nonetheless worrisome that like-minded people living in the same two mile radius are lacking social experiences that bring them the meaningful associations they crave.

Contact Caitie Karasik at ckarasik ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Caitie is a senior majoring in Sociology with a minor in Political Science. She studies generational differences in gender norms, and is particularly interested in the attitudes and behaviors that characterize Millennials ("Generation Y"). Contact her at [email protected] with comments or questions.

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