Earlier this week, Vanity Fair published an article on its website that will also appear in its September magazine issue. It carries the title “Tinder and the Dawn of the ‘Dating Apocalypse,'” which is restrained and sensible and in no way hyperbolic.
I don’t read Vanity Fair with any frequency, but I do read a lot of tech news and that often includes stuff that intersects with broader popular culture. The success and growth of Tinder as an app sits firmly in both these worlds so I wasn’t surprised to see an article like this begin making the rounds on Twitter and other places I do follow. With some reluctance, I clicked and made my way through the article.
To be fair, I didn’t read the whole thing. It took all of two paragraphs to grok the central premise, so I skimmed most of the rest. Here’s the gist, in case you are not a #millennial and have no idea what Tinder is. Tinder and its competitors are smartphone dating apps that allow you to see people near you and determine whether you’d be interested in meeting them. You see someone you like? You indicate that on the app. If the other person does the same, you’ll be “matched” and the app will let you know. At that point, you can communicate with that person directly and decide if you actually want to meet.
Breaking News! Young People Confused and Having Crappy Relationships!
The message in the article is that many, maybe most, young people are using it purely as a hookup app, not as a way to meet people they actually want to date. It seems this is particularly true of the men they interviewed and the women are mostly resigned that this is just the way it is. This leads to a lot of disaffected twentysomethings who have plentiful but bad sex, don’t actually date people and are wondering if it’s worth the hassle.
I was shocked–SHOCKED–to learn this. Through time immemorial to the present, interactions between young adults have been based only on shared interests, like cat videos and scrapbooking, with the goal of building a meaningful connection that might over time evolve into a romantic relationship. What’s more, everyone knows that until the terrible Millennials came along, people in their 20s never made questionable decisions or struggled to find meaningful relationships. This is a first in history and we must do something! The future of the nuclear family hangs in the balance!
Here’s where I first point out that the sex and relationship habits of people in Manhattan’s financial district, which is who was interviewed for the piece, might not quite be the same as those of everyone else. The male subjects of the article are described as “budding investment bankers at the same financial firm, which recruited [them] straight from an Ivy League campus.” Once again, I’m shocked at the following passage from the article:
“Guys view everything as a competition,” he elaborates with his deep, reassuring voice. “Who’s slept with the best, hottest girls? With these dating apps, he says, “you’re always sort of prowling.”
I can’t believe investment bankers would engage in hyper-competitive, borderline-sociopathic behavior that treats women more like tradable commodities than human beings. They have such a great reputation!
Different Verse, Same as the First
Okay, so ignoring the people interviewed in the article, what’s really going on here? Is the “dating apocalypse” a real thing? I guess I don’t know for sure, but I kinda doubt it.
I remember these exact arguments floating about in the early 00s about dating websites. Stuff like “people don’t have to make an effort anymore!” or “it’s about convenience, not a real connection.” Worse, there was a stigma on those that used them as desperate or unable to attract people in the real world. Nowadays those businesses are major TV advertisers and no one blinks at it.
I’ve never used Tinder or any other dating service. These particular apps came along after I was married and long after my wife and I started dating, but it seems likely that if I were still single that I’d have at least tried Tinder. Why not? Even if a bunch of people on the service are using it just for hookups, it doesn’t preclude trying to actually meet someone for something more than that.
In other words, it’s the same as it ever was. Technology evolves, which changes how people go about relationships, and other people think its weird and possibly bad because it’s different from how they did it.** I’m guessing someone in the 19th century accused Alexander Graham Bell of ruining courtship because you could just call a woman instead of having to go to her homestead with the goats you intended to give her father as dowry.
People in their 20s having bad relationships and doing dumb stuff is the plot of roughly one million movies and books. This is not new. It’s what happens. Wake me up when the article comes out about how no one’s dating because everyone’s got sexbots. Now that will be interesting.
Attack of the Tweetstorm
It’s fair to say I’m not impressed with the Vanity Fair article. I get why it exists. It get why people will read it, and I even get why some people will actually feel alarmed about Tinder’s effect on the dating lives of young people. But mostly I think it’s much ado about very little.
So what’s the only thing that could make me feel even dumber for having engaged in all this? You guessed it! Twitter!
In response to the Vanity Fair article, Tinder reacted in the most 2015 way possible: a tweetstorm. Because Twitter has a 140 character limit, it’s not possible to share a long message unless you simply link to it elsewhere (which is what you should do). Sometimes someone gets fired up enough that they post a long series of tweets on the same subject. It’s the digital equivalent of going off on a rant, and that’s why it’s called “storm.”Occasionally this can be insightful or funny, but most of the time it makes someone look unhinged. Yet that’s what Tinder did in response to what it felt was an unfair article. It sent out a gazillion “angry” tweets as though the company was fed up and not gonna take it anymore.
The problem? Tinder is a brand, not a person. The Twitter feeds of companies are managed by employees and the messaging is usually pretty well-controlled. Tinder wanted this to sound like one person’s passionate defense of the company, but instead it sounded phony and staged.
Guess what? It looks like there’s a good chance it was. An editor for Buzzfeed has claimed she was tipped off by a PR professional that Tinder would be doing exactly what it did. I don’t care if it’s true because even if it’s not, it sure felt like a PR stunt. Ugh.
I’m So Sorry
To recap, an article with silly concern-mongering about the shallow sex lives of spoiled young people on an island led to a dumb reaction from the company targeted by that article that appears to have been a PR response staged as “outrage.” Ugh, this is gross.
And then I wrote about it, and now you’re reading about it through me and oh my God I’m a monster. We really do become what we hate. I’m so sorry.
Jesus. I need a shower.
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*The “dating apocalypse” description actually comes from someone quoted for the article, so I can’t rightly lay blame entirely at the feet of Vanity Fair.
**It is worth looking into the gross and creepy behavior that this technology makes easier to understand what needs to be done to keep people safe.