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Swiping Left and Swiping Right: Are Dating Apps Turning Intimacy Sour?

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From the dawn of time, people have been falling in love. Running all the way till the 21st Century, it is fair to say that technology has played a pretty huge role in how love is mediated. What once came in the form of handwritten letters in the early Renaissance period moulded its way into internet technologies such as dating apps like Tinder.


Cue the age of internet dating, where your soulmate may be one swipe away, what are these apps really doing to authentic forms of dating? 


Anthropologist Ana Garza contends that late capitalism has solicited romance as an object of commodification, meaning that, basically, love is something that can be purchased, like a handbag. So, instead of using online shopping for comfort and stress release, one can endlessly swipe through potential suitors in their area. Similarly, dating apps allow users to disassociate with authentic emotions, replaced by surface-level interactions with other users.


Placing desirability as favourable to authenticity, online dating has caused a rise of social phenomenon’s such as ‘catfishing.’ Nervously waiting for a date to walk in the door, individuals find that their potential partners look vastly different in person compared to their online profile, they’ve been CATFISHED (it happens to the best of us). But seriously, the social implications of how we market ourselves online may be reshaping the fabric of meaningful relationships. 


However, perhaps they present a natural progression in the evolution of love. With approximately 336 millionpeople using dating app services in 2022, people are clearly finding companionship using algorithms as matchmakers. Yet, spending hours tediously trying to take the perfect selfie for one’s profile, dating app users are subconsciously succumbing to instant gratification over meaningful relationships. 


It is also crucial not to forget about the companies who are responsible for this. Tailored as per the clients wants, dating app developers anticipate how users will interact and therefore shift algorithms accordingly. This prompts consideration of – take a deep breath – whether economic systems shaping our desires, informing the app developers reciprocally. What this results in is a society that excludes certain individuals. Well, in the eyes of the developers anyway. 


Responsibility therefore lies in the lap of these developers to navigate the contours of ethical concerns and work towards app design that favours individuality. This may already be underway, with apps such as Hingeaiming to foster uniqueness through giving users prompts to answer. This could bridge the gap between conversations and finding love online. 


Having said all of this, let us not forget where the idea of buying love comes from. Productivity is placed so highly in a society that is always striving for money and time, that the day-to-day humdrum of routine doesn’t allow much space for authentic conversations with strangers to emerge. The likelihood of meeting one’s soulmate on a train platform as your hands brush against each other’s isn’t impossible, but certainly unlikely. 


Pair this with travel, these structures change the material ways that people around the world fulfil their needs. Can you blame them for using their free time during morning commute to find potential spouses? In this way, dating apps provide a vital role for busy, work-driven individuals and those who are geographically dispersed, offering forms of intimacy across borders. 


So yes, maybe dating apps are contributing to the hours people spend online and yes, perhaps it is becoming unlikely to meet a partner as you lock eyes in a crowded bar. However, for many, dating apps are an innovative way of meeting new people in new cities, countries or even just with similar interests. In a society that values efficiency over most things, it is not so easy to experience authentic interactions on a daily basis. 


Life doesn’t always give you lemons. Sometimes, you have to go down to the farmers market and get them yourself. 

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