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Meeting People Online vs Real Life

The other day I watched a Bloomberg interview of Sean Rad, co-founder of the app Tinder.  The interviewer drove the conversation towards trying to get Rad to say that Tinder is not a “dating app”, but undoubtedly a “hook-up app”.  By arguing that a “dating app” would share more meaningful information about its users, the interviewer clearly held the position that Tinder’s “hot or not” judging interface was shallow.

To those of you who are unfamiliar with Tinder, it is a mobile app that puts two people into communication if they both find each other attractive.  A user can upload up to 5 pictures of them self, pick a gender preference, and define the local area that they’d like to meet people in.  To set up a profile you need to log-in through Facebook, and by doing so it makes a record of your interests and sees who your friends are.  Pretty much, as a user, you scan through pictures of random people in your local neighborhood and judge whether or not you find them attractive – while seeing if you know anyone in common and their mutual interests.

I used to give any type of online dating tool the same bad wrap most people give them.  “They’re weird”,”they’re shallow”, “the only people who use them are desperate”, and “only creeps use that stuff” were my go to comments on the subject.  However, after listening to Rad defend Tinder as a dating app over a hook-up app, I kinda had a realization.

 “We condemn the things that remind us we are inherently shallow and simple”
Imagine yourself [single] going out one night.  It doesn’t matter where.  A bar, club, or restaurant, just someplace that is social.  Your goal is to meet someone, someone to have fun with or possibly a relationship.  Once you get to where you are going maybe you grab a drink, but you start looking.  Scanning the venue for a person who you find attractive, a person you’d like to talk to.  Once you see them, you start the approach.  Maybe that’s sitting next to them or trying to make eye contact and get a smile.  But the main goal is to try to sense whether or not the attraction is mutual.  If it is, you or they may initiate a conversation.  “What’s your name?”, “where are you from?”, “do you happen to know [friends name]?”, and “what kind of things do like to do?” are the most commonly asked questions, or a variation of them.  After these first steps, though, you may have met your dream partner, you may be Googling “nearest motel” with no intentions of calling them after the night, or you may just not be interested.
That’s how being social or dating (in most cases) happens in the real world.  So how is that any different from what happens online?  Whether you have a Match.com profile that includes endless information about what you like to eat, drink, allergies, your dogs name, and birthmarks, or a Tinder profile that has just a couple pictures and helps puts you in contact with people you think are hot.  Isn’t it the same process?
You look around hoping to find someone you think is attractive.  If they feel the same way they will respond – if they don’t they wont.  Next up is finding out the most basic information about them; name, home, interests, and mutual friends.  After that, they either become a friend, a hookup, a lover, or a memory.
However people hate to be objectified and they hate to be categorized.  The thought of someone judging you on a generic set of criteria enrages your individualistic spirit.  But, be honest, that is exactly how we all judge and look at others.  When trying to describe a friend to someone to see if they also know him, you’d say, “You know, the Jewish one, medium height, black hair, fairly good looking, drives a BWM?”, before ever saying, “You know, he loves golden retrievers, thought that the Catcher in the Rye was only decent and has never been sky diving but really, really wants to go?”  It is this type of thinking, these generalizations, that we categorize people – whether it is consciously or subconsciously.
In out liberal age we love to believe that we have internalized what we’ve been told is right.  That stereotypes are bad, that we are unique individuals who have the right to be appreciate for who we are, and that we don’t hold prejudices against things such as wealth, race, and religion.  However, we do – I’ll be the first to say it.  I have rich friends and I have poor friends but there are difficulties when I mix the two.  A black man in a hoodie at night makes my white friends (and black friends!) and I much more uneasy than a white man dressed as so.  While we try to convince ourselves that we do not think or behave this way, it is innate behavior.  Therefore, I believe the reason online dating gets a bad wrap is because it reminds us that we judge other people using the most generic of mindsets.  But, even more importantly, it reminds you that that’s how people judge you.
I have a few friends that have gotten laid as well as one whose been in a happy relationship thanks to Tinder.  I bet many people think that they shouldn’t use online dating because it’s dangerous, but ever heard of a Roofie?  The online world is the real world just like reading a hand written letter is reading someones real words.  The online is only a more effective means of communication, and in this case communicating with potential partners.  Yes, it maybe be shallow – but so are we.  If you can be honest with yourself about what you are looking for in others, you can probably have a great time and meet some great people using such platforms.
-Sepp

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