How Tinder Killed the Pickup

Image courtesy of Swagger New York
Image courtesy of Swagger New York

It’s been around for over a year. Most of you are probably familiar with it and some of you may have even gotten laid because of it. It is a tool that immediately identifies other users in your vicinity with the inclination to see or play with your genitals. In it, there is no such thing as rejection, only overwhelming interest or distant, unassuming silence. The outright “no” that was once an inevitable part of our quest for companionship fades into virtual nothingness while all the users who “like” you appear in large and explicit notifications…in swirly font and shit.

For those who are unfamiliar with Tinder, it works like this. After pulling a few pictures from your Facebook page and allowing you to tweak your profile, you are directed to an endless thread of potential partners – little more than a picture and name – that are currently within the geographical radius of your choosing. You swipe right or left indicating whether you “like” or “dislike” them and as this happens, your profile shows up on the mobile devices of these other users who are also rating your fuckability. Now, here’s the genius part: if either party decides they’re not interested in the other, nobody finds out. You can never tell who has seen your profile, much less if they have “disliked” you, thus sparing both parties the awkward shame of rejection.

But, if you like each other, a chat automatically opens up and you’re probably one or two clever comments – not to mention a short distance – away from being two knuckles deep in the slippery orifice of your choosing.

Although I myself have never been a user, I can attest to its efficacy. Sometime earlier in the year, a young lady, with whom I am well acquainted, joined Tinder as a sort of joke. “Just for fun,” she told me, “just to see who likes me.” We went out drinking with a few friends that night and for at least several minutes, it felt like we were hearing the thoughts of a peppy high school girl watching her own Facebook feed.

“YES! Another like!”

Gen's tinder profile via Facebook
Gen’s Tinder profile via Facebook

With each excited squeal, my heart sank and the craft beer – that sweet ambrosia – began to taste of bitter wine.

Now, my girlfriend (pronounced Jen), has rather discerning taste in men (obviously) so for every 25 or more profiles she saw, she would “like”  perhaps one of them. As a result, each of the guys on her chat list was without fail, more attractive, talented and/or buff than her boyfriend. So, after several minutes of this, I aggressively insisted that she halt her very fruitful search for the most eligible bachelors within banging distance, lest she find herself face-to-face with the musician or walking six pack who just happens to be having a drink next door.

The value of an application like this is obvious. Grindr is another similar application for gay men who can arrange meetings with interested partners by spraying their details and locations across the Grindrsphere. Despite the incredible intrusiveness of this particular function, I get it. The pool of potential partners broadcast by Grindr is probably more difficult to identify without the tool and it’s also (again, probably) more embarrassing to be rejected by a straight man you mistook for a gay one than a women who is into men, just not you.

Screenshot of Blendr, Grindr's identical twin from the same developers
Screenshot of Blendr, Grindr’s identical twin for heteros. Image via GQ

What both applications have in common, however, is their uncanny ability to connect you with lots of people you want to hump in a few short minutes. You can even afford to throw a few away as one coy suitor did when he told Gen he “would love to motorboat the shit out of those tits” in the opening line of their chat. But here’s the thing: it’s not even that crazy for him to be so forward about it. After all, the only reason that chat opened up is because in some sense, they’ve both already entertained the idea. Not necessarily his crass articulation, but something like it…

The problem with Tinder is that it turns any decent looking boy into a hero standing atop the mountain of prospects that is his “chat list.” Female users are peppered with likes and, within this framework, judge their success according to the number of chats that haven’t yet descended into the depths of depravity.

It’s pitched as a “dating app” but there is no quality here, not even in the shallowest sense. That’s because before you go on any “date” there is nothing to judge except a few purposefully chosen pictures and a marginally clever one line descriptor. It would be like taking a book, looking at the cover, listening to the author’s single favourite sentence, then fucking the book before you decide to read it. Chats aren’t usually any more revealing. They flicker and die while everyone moves on to newer prospects and the enticing possibility of someone better.

Tinder poses a risk to the idea of the pickup – not even dating, which is only a faint possibility at the rate you swipe through partners. It’s too easy. There’s no nervous approach, no fear, no heartfelt desire to connect. That’s why rejection is a good thing. It’s a means of fortifying your self esteem and a bulwark against cockiness, overzealousness, and general douchiness (all of which Tinder boasts by the shitload). But all things in motion naturally veer towards the path of least resistance and rejection has a tendency to stifle us. I’m not saying men or women will stop going to bookshops, nightclubs, and cocktail mixers to meet people who might reject them, but it’s unfortunate to think they now have the option not to. When Tinder does lead to a date, it’s rife with pretence, more so than with another partner you originally met in person. You didn’t get a message at 3:00AM because he (or she) is interested in you as a human being, it was a scattershot. You’re just the one that happened to respond. And if this represents the pickup of the future, that future seems very unfortunate.

True, getting laid is usually a good thing, but I think we will soon learn that it isn’t when it’s easy.

How Tinder Killed the Pickup

The Mobile Disconnect

Does being in-touch with everything put us further out-of-touch?

A lot of people have cell phones. Like, more than a lot according to the only-kind-of-but-not-really reliable figures from Wikipedia. The following ‘facts’ are based on these figures: If the number of active mobile phones were distributed evenly across the world’s population, 80% of the human race would have a mobile phone. Fact: Several developed countries have more active cell phones than they do people. The U.S., with a population of close to 315 million, is one of these countries. That means, the number of uptight business people with two or more mobile phones is enough to make up the stagger on the population who have yet to embrace the technology.

Now, I work in downtown Toronto and, coincidentally, so do many business people. Walking down a sidewalk at rush-hour is a bit like running an obstacle course with a herd of blindfolded buffalo; fun to watch and irritating to participate in. It’s fun to watch when those with their faces buried in a mobile device run into road signs, bus shelters, and other people; it’s irritating when they run into me. These people barrel down the sidewalk with their heads down half-expecting all park benches, trash cans and other people (also with their heads down) to get out of their way. It’s either that or they are so entranced by their conversation, Twitter feed, Facebook page, news article, blog post or game of Tetris that they truly don’t consider the possibility that they may accidentally ‘bump into’ a UPS truck doing 60km. I know because I’ve done it too.

We’ve become addicted to the convenience of these devices and gotten used to having this endless stream of information at our fingertips. You can go anywhere in the world with the click of a link or facetime your buddy in Botswana with the push of a button.  If nothing else, it’s something to do when boredom sets in. My uncle once quipped that the mobile phone is an escape from the reality in front of you. If you decide that you don’t like talking to the person you’re talking to, your phone gives you an excuse to talk to someone else.

The fact that we are connected so closely to everyone has created a gap – a disconnect. As these devices put you in touch with people who aren’t there, they put you out of touch with the people who are there. Have you ever tried to have a conversation with your grandmother while your girlfriend is sending you dirty text messages? Me neither, but I would imagine it’s very distracting.

But that’s not all. Often times, our focus strays from the people around us simply because we are aware of the unlimited alternative sitting in our pocket. We don’t have to be in the middle of a passionate text message exchange to be distracted – we’re distracted by the fact that we could be.

It’s easy to see the upsides of text messaging. A text message allows for things that a conversation does not. You can take time to collect your thoughts and phrase your sentiment properly. You can respond as quickly or as slowly as you want. You can do other things while you’re waiting for the recipient to respond. You can bring a text correspondence to a full stop if it has grown annoying or repetitive – no need for formalities, farewells or awkward pauses. So, what you’re left with is little more than a sterile version of a human conversation. The mechanical medium has sucked the life out of it. The spontaneity – the possibility that I might accidentally say something stupid or awkward – begins to disappear.

Still, this doesn’t totally eliminate the possibility of sending a message that is stupid or awkward. I’ve sent a text message or 50 that I wish I hadn’t. After each time I do, I wonder for a while whether or not I should or shouldn’t have sent that (probably) inappropriate text message. What if my old high school bud didn’t get my joke about his George Hamilton tan or his glow-in-the-dark teeth? Last time I thought about this, I missed a hilarious story that my aunt was telling about two dogs and a kitten’s litter box. The pathetic part is: I didn’t realize I missed it until after I read his response.

The Mobile Disconnect