The geo-location hookup app Tinder has redefined dating in the Internet age. What happens now?


Every relationship begins as a fantasy about yourself. And because the Internet is always ready to tell us "yes, that's true" when we ask it about anything, online dating has been one of the most consistent fixations.

It has housed a string of dating websites and apps to maintain the romantic illusions about yourself while chartering tours through the swamp of probability, in which the right one is waiting but only if you persistently wade through the debris to find them.

Tinder is the newest of these fantasy delivery devices, and it may be the most efficient and transparent yet. The phone app was launched for iOS devices last October and just released an Android version, claiming to have produced 100 million matches and had over 7 billion profile ratings in less than a year. 


Like all online dating formats, my early days with Tinder were a mix of discovering and lusting after new people I hadn't even known were there, mixed with a light anxiety about how I might seem to them.


Unlike the stodgy formalism of OKCupid and HowAboutWe, Tinder is built around instantaneous reactions that feel disposable. The app connects to a user's Facebook profile, taking five pictures to display alongside a person's age, mutual friends, and shared Facebook Likes. When you open the app, it uses GPS to find users closest to you, whom it shows one at a time. You just swipe a person's photo to indicate relative interest, left if no and right if yes. You can't contact a person unless they've swiped yes over your profile, but you're never alerted to who is selecting or rejecting you. Matches happen through digital luck, with both people happening to have swiped to the right, which means you can then send a text message.

Because of the lack of long form answers and made-up rhetoric about what a person thinks they're like, you're encouraged to choose impulsively based on pure instinct. And since seeing additional users requires you to make a choice about the one you're currently viewing, it's easy to get in a loop of liking or disliking people at a rapid pace.

One doesn't linger over a user profile for an hour, dissecting all of its different answers, linking friends to it for advice, before carefully composing an over-explanatory introductory email that'll never be returned. You just say yes or no, and knowing that even if you say yes the other person may never see your profile, it's easier to be adventurous about liking people without over-interpreting things. The underlying text communication has its own sense of lightness, discouraging long exchanges about work and family history and instead favoring humor and creativity.

But this sense of free mingling play is as much an illusion as thinking a list of liked objects can point to a potential life partner. The price of participating in this mutual fantasy exchange is presenting yourself as a fantasy for others.

The photo-enhancement app Pixtr is becoming a popular tool for lightly enhancing a person's photos before uploading them to Tinder according to a report from Business Insider. The effect eliminates blemishes and imperfections in the tradition of glossy fashion magazines, smoothing out smile lines, freckles, pimples with a plasticine coating of sex magic, as if the user were dollifying themselves.

This ethos bleeds into the way people communicate to each other, sending out signifiers most likely to keep the communication going. Even while you may be aware you're performing only a very limited and controlled part of yourself, there's an excitement in knowing that it's working, that someone out there is actually getting off on your posturing.

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I've never been able to Internet date for any extended period of time, but I'm drawn to its founding myth that love is something you find through the predestination. The alternative view—that love is results from an ongoing process that grows between two people over time, something that's possible with almost anyone you pass on the street—is the desacralizing antidote to the sickness of romantic love.

Like all online dating formats, my early days with Tinder were a mix of discovering and lusting after new people I hadn't even known were there, mixed with a light anxiety about how I might seem to them.

The first few notifications showing I'd matched with someone were little sugar rushes of excitement, and the innocuous texts that followed extended that sugar rush. And then the discovery slowly turns to labor, the endless conveyor belt of faces to evaluate start to lose their promise and swiping through them becomes an obsessive tic, a productive compulsion with no clear endpoint. And then the text exchanges begin to show their own machined edges, the development of jokes and pithy descriptions of one's work and neighborhood turn into a script of a kind, improvised by two people not wanting the other person to get spooked. When both parties become comfortable enough to meet, the buzzkill of scheduling turns the non-committal pith into secretarial calendar-keeping: I can do tonight or else a week from Wednesday and then I'll be out of town for a week.

This is when the absurdity of online dating becomes unavoidable. In cities and towns filled with other people, the desire to find newer and more perfected creatures to couple with is another way of opting out of one's present community.

I did meet one person on Tinder who seemed right to me, funny and smart and pretty. As we texted back and forth over a few days I thought that maybe I was wrong, that I had just been overly cynical about everything, and this would be the person to disprove all my theories. And so I asked her if she wanted to meet and she said yes with exclamation marks, and when I swiped into my phone to reply I inadvertently triggered the block function, and she permanently disappeared from my list.

The app uses only first names and has no archive or search function to seek out individual users—everything is driven by its GPS-centric algorithm. Once blocked it was as if she had never been there in the first place.

And this is perhaps the best case scenario for Tinder, an encounter so full of promise it begins to make you doubt yourself and everything you had been to that point. Then a random input error erases that promise entirely and you are returned again to your old skeptical self, only now with a peculiar sense of having lost something that was never really there in the first place.

Michael Thomsen is's tech columnist. He has written for Slate, The Atlantic, The New Inquiry, n+1, Billboard, and is author of Levitate the Primate: Handjobs, Internet Dating, and Other Issues for Men. He tweets often at @mike_thomsen.

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