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Tinder Has, Apparently, Found the 'Key' to Online Dating

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The latest NYT article about a certain dating app that begins with the letter T has gone right ahead and added to the swelling compost heap of male-oriented buzz and money circulating around that app. It's also gone and added to that merry discourse about what is "the key to online dating" -- a set of conversations that has to be one of the world's most pointless, and yet one of its most popular, at least where weekend newspaper fillers are concerned.

The article, by (the man) Nick Bilton, starts with his rather superfluous -- but no doubt pleasurable -- observation about models entering the Tinder building in Hollywood. Evidently, a modelling agency shares a building with Tinder offices (a coincidence?), and Bilton is there, waiting for a meeting with Tinder "executives" who, judging from the "boardroom" picture by Kendrick Brinson, are all male. That tallies with what I thought. (The app has employed a female in-house "dating and relationship expert," Jessica Carbino, with whom I communicated last year when she was finishing a PhD thesis on online dating at UCLA. Her title as "expert," though, does not suggest executive function. Please let her correct me if I'm wrong.)

Anyway, the models spark the metaphor with which Bilton, our eye on Tinder's genius, opens and closes the piece. The models, fascinatingly enough, are wearing cut-off jean shorts and flip flops when they enter the building, then transform, like magic!, into models ready for a shoot, complete with "globs of lip gloss".

So this models-change-clothes insight was used to contextualize new findings -- namely, that Tinder has figured it all out. Tinder understands that people base all pick-up decisions on looks. But! Stop press, not looks in the purely attractiveness sense, but looks in terms of visual clues.

Stop press one more time. When singles walk into a bar, they aren't asked to fill in compatibility forms. They just look around and then pick someone to talk to based on a mishmash of signs about their comportment and appearance. And -- how's this for nuance? -- just because a guy or gal is hot doesn't mean they'll get picked up -- after all, they might be scary and evoke the rejection ding dong.

Where experts, such as Dr Eli Finkel, a regular on the psychology of digital dating comment circuit, say Tinder beats the usual dating sites is that it "acknowledges [like the experts!] that the only thing that matters when matching lovers is someone's picture."

I honestly can't tell you where the models fit into this -- something about how you can have two personas; one online and one off. But it doesn't matter. Because Tinder's popularity is nothing to do with scientists figuring out that all clues are based on pictures. If that was the case, then normal internet dating sites would work just as well since daters can browse all they like.

Nor does it matter that Tinder's platform provides something closer to "real life" in this mythical bar that people used to (indeed apparently still do) meet people when they aren't dating online. Tinder, indeed the whole array of digital interfaces, including virtual reality, are NOT OFFLINE LIFE. They present a different material reality; a different texture; different philosophies, modes of being, and different affordances (ie, things that let you do things like select or click or message).

What people forget is that the point of dating apps, or online dating, is to provide an alternative to real life. In real life you can't flick through someone's face dismissively even if you want to. There's no "nope" stamp, in just those words, in real life. You have to pretend to go to the bathroom.

And people like that online-ness. It's other. It's fun. It's when you meet up that things tend to get less fun.

The other big thing it's to do with that isn't "cracking the key" to attraction or whatever, is EASE. Tinder is so goddamn easy. And with lives ever-fuller of registration and Pay Pal account set ups that are an arse to complete, Tinder is a piece of cake.

Never mind that once you get on it, the array of human life presenting itself pictorially is something to regard with sobriety as well as humor.

Now, the people that REALLY are understanding what offline life is off are the less-publicized, soon to launch Pozee app, which is as simple as Tinder. It's business is to alert you to other singles in your proximity -- the only info members give is that they're single and up for meeting someone. You can then look at them and decide whether to say hi. And according to these guys, far more plausibly than all the gumph about pictoral clues, knowing someone else is single and on the market is leads to chat. And with Pozee, as an alert system, you can pursue the person through face-to-face interaction, without which -- am I right? -- it's hard to actually get the love, dates and sex that all those Tinderites say they're after.

(NB: I wanted to end with that flourish, but then I thought, hmm, Pozee could lead to some fairly painful encounters -- imagine the types that might come up to you on the train and sit down in the seat next to you... and there's still 36 minutes to go till London Bridge! No, this definitely wasn't what you had in mind...)