As humans, we naturally care about others’ opinions of us, and want to present ourselves as best we can. When moving from everyday life into the online realm of social networking and social media, the ways in which we are able to present ourselves are drastically altered and expanded. Due to new media, like never before, users today are able to curate and present a version of themselves and their life directly to their friends and the public. This has had distinct effects on the ways in which we go about trying to present ourselves. How social media affects this online “performance of self”, along with other aspects of our interactions, on- and offline, is a new phenomenon to be explored.
One app which has recently been groundbreaking is Tinder. Tinder is a dating app which uses your Facebook information and pictures to create a profile for you, which other uses can either “swipe right” or “swipe left” on (indicating whether they want to “like” you or “pass” on you). If you and another user both like each other, you will be able to send messages back and forth. You are able to write a bio about yourself, and choose which of your Facebook pictures are shown on your profile. You can also sync your instagram account to your profile and have those pictures displayed. Released in 2012, since then the app has become one of the most successful, during October 2014 reaching over one billion swipes per day.
Through a simple concept, this app has completely disrupted the dating scene. “It’s changing so much about the way we act both romantically and sexually… it is unprecedented from an evolutionary standpoint” (vanityfair.com). One research scientist even claims that “there have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years”. He says, “the first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet” (vanityfair.com).
In “No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social Behavior”, Joshua Meyrowitz outlines some effects of this new media. The book discusses “a new conception of social situations that includes both physical settings such as rooms and buildings and the “informational settings” that are created by media. For media, like physical places, include and exclude participants. Media, like walls and windows, can hide and they can reveal” (Meyrowitz). He “attempts to describe who and what we are becoming as our social situations change and as, in response, our behavior takes on new forms and meanings” (Meyrowitz).
When the physical setting of “the bar” can be held in the palm of your hand and taken to your couch, how does that impact the relationships that we form, and the way that we “perform our self”? What are we able to hide, and reveal, like we never have been before? Tinder is completely changing the way that millennials look at relationships. Giving us options like never before, the possibilities for new relationships is growing exponentially. In the new “space” that Tinder creates, there is a seemingly endless amount of options. In one article, a few men “when asked if they’ve been arranging dates on the apps they’ve been swiping at, all say not one date, but two or three: “You can’t be stuck in one lane … There’s always something better.” “If you had a reservation somewhere and then a table at Per Se opened up, you’d want to go there,” Alex offers” (vanityfair.com). I would consider these implications of this technology problematic, making us feel like we shouldn’t “settle” for what is right in front of us when there are thousands of options out there, and maybe altering our emotions towards others as we begin to view swiping through and chatting with people as a “game”.
The impacts of Tinder can also follow us offline. One article discusses a phenomenon called the “Tinderization of Feeling”. It says “Tinder may have also changed the way we think by teaching us that ‘nothing matters unless you want it to matter’” (independent.co.uk). It “teaches people ‘emotional disassociation’” and serves as a “metaphor for speeding up and mechanising decision-making”, therefore making humans robotic” (independent.co.uk). “The ‘yes/no’ nature of the app has turned into a culture of its own, over-simplifying the decision-making process until the idea of “maybe” is but a mere inconvenience” (independent.co.uk).
These effects can be felt when you start to participate in Tinder. After a while, your thought process becomes automatic, swiping right on a certain type of picture, swiping left for all others. You start looking for certain qualities, for example, blond hair and blue eyes, and try to match with profiles that meet your vision. Eventually, you’ll probably stop reading the bios before you swipe, because it’s an inconvenience and requires you to click out of the main screen of the “game”. This is extremely oversimplifying the process of meeting and talking to people. You know nothing about them when you decide that you “like” them, all you see is what they look like.
While this platform is not exactly public, your bio and pictures can only be seen by the select few who are in your area and are “swiping” at the time, there is still a sense of putting yourself out there. There is an aspect of curating yourself, putting up the most flattering pictures you can find and maybe including a joke in your bio to show that you have a sense of humor. On the app you have a series of private conversations, but there is still a fear that it might become public, for example screenshotted and posted on someone’s Twitter, or if you have “mutual friends” with your match he may show them the conversation or ask them about you. “When we find ourselves in a given setting we often unconsciously ask, “who can see me, you can hear me?” “Who can I see, who can I hear?” The answers to these questions help us decide how to behave and although these questions were once fully answered by an assessment of the physical environment, they now require an evaluation of the media environment as well” (Meyrowitz). Therefore, you might be extra careful with what you say and how you present yourself at times. For example, using the app at home or at school where you are more likely to come across people who know you vs. using it on vacation with friends.
“One of the ways in which we adapt to social life is by learning our culture’s stock of situational definitions. By the time we grow to adulthood in a given society, most of us have unconsciously mastered the broad outlines of many, if not most, of our society’s definition of situations” (Meyrowitz). This app creates a new situation, for which there is no precedent and no known etiquette or set of norms. Tinder is pretty open ended, and simply facilitates a way for two people to exchange messages. It is up to users to create meaning themselves. This is why it can be confusing or feel strange at times. Are you supposed to just be having a conversation? Friendly or flirtatious? What is the end goal? Is it for entertainment, maybe to get a few compliments out of someone? Or are you actually supposed to meet up and go on a date with this person? This can cause a certain amount of stress in the user, as well as, frequently, miscommunications between two people chatting. At times one will have a much different expectation than the other. With an entirely new situation, it can be hard to know how to conduct yourself.
This becomes clear after using Tinder for only a short amount of time. I was greeted with everything from pickup lines to amusing “would you rather” questions to aggressive advances to “hello”. Some users said something like “let’s go get a drink” after exchanging only a few short messages, others I held long, friendly conversations with and never brought up meeting “irl”. I got into one conversation with someone about their ex, and over the course of the next two days I gave him advice and heard all about his date with another girl and how sad it had made him. Never once did he try to ask me out or hit on me. There really is no norm. This platform can be whatever you make of it.
“By changing the boundaries of social situations, electronic media do not simply give us quicker or more thorough access to events and behaviors. They give us, instead, new events and new behaviors” (Meyrowitz). Tinder creates a new way to form relationships that never before existed. It was never before possible to scroll through, and communicate with, hundreds of people in one night. These new changing media landscapes vastly change our possibilities for interactions, as well as create a new need to present the best version of ourselves, or “perform” ourselves. The way that we present ourselves is held up to scrutiny like never before, as we engage online and are seemingly being judged by hundreds, if not thousands. “Social reality does not exist in the sum of people’s behaviors, but in the overall pattern of situated behaviors. Therefore, when the dividing line between two distinct situations is moved or removed, social reality will change” (Meyrowitz). Maybe, starting with our generation, the new social reality will be meeting potential dates right from the palm of your hand.