Style Sex & Relationships

Sunday 22 July 2018

Niamh Horan: Humans have always sought out sex - but Tinder has just made it mindlessly addictive

What's coming next for the future of Tinder and dating?

Sunday Independent journalist Niamh Horan
Sunday Independent journalist Niamh Horan
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

Although it feels like Tinder has ushered in the age of no-strings-attached sex, humans have always loved the opportunity of a spontaneous hook-up.

Take the Bacchanalia (fertility festivals) of ancient Rome. The Puritans had "junketing" (parties to tell dirty jokes and engage in sex acts), while in the 1920s, men and women would hold "heavy petting" parties.

Even the high society ladies of stiff Victorian times hid ''escort cards'' up their sleeves like an early version of Tinder.

Also called ''flirtation'' or ''acquaintance'' cards, they carried little messages that used abbreviated slang ("May I C U Home?"), while some put it all out there ("Not Married and Out for A Good Time"), allowing 19th century women to organise a clandestine courtship on the walk home.

What the dating app did differently, however, was to make casual hook-ups mainstream. It is now used regularly by 50m people worldwide. And even more importantly, it made looking for them addictive.

Let's go back 75 years to the research of BF Skinner, arguably one of America's most influential behavioural scientists. Skinner sought to understand how you could affect someone else's future behaviour.

When an action, let's say pulling a lever on a slot machine, is followed by positive reinforcement (winning money), there is an increased probability that you will repeat this behaviour in the future. But if the rewards are variable (sometimes you win, sometimes you don't) that's when the thrill of the pull becomes addictive.

Tap into a human's most basic need for connection, approval and affirmation, and hand out those rewards on a variable schedule and you have got a business model to make yourself a lot of money.

Enter the tech giants.

Every time a person opens Tinder, they don't know if someone will have liked their photo, matched their profile or the next session will yield a chance to meet ''the one''. So they continue swiping.

It isn't just Tinder that induces this addictive behaviour. Every feature on your phone - the thrill of the red dot that signals a new message, the scrolling newsfeeds, the alert that says ''you've got mail'' all keep us coming back for more.

Smartphone apps use what psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls "the flow": The state in which a perfect storm of activity and desire combines to produce a mental state where hours can seem to go by in minutes.

But although Tinder may have found a way to make their app addictive, they crucially haven't cracked the art of making it fulfilling.

*Alison is 29. Her evenings used to be spent on the couch flicking between Netflix and Tinder. She says she loved "the low effort" it took to meet people. It that was also incredibly entertaining: "It was hilarious to see some of your colleagues in a totally different light. Guys I was familiar with in a suit and tie would pop up on my picture feed holding a surf board with a tribal tattoo wrapped around their arm."

She would organise dates in a bar five minutes from her home. "It meant that if they didn't work out, I was back having my dinner and watching TV 45 minutes later. And, if it did, we were close enough to go back to my place for the night."

She had a rule that she would only go to a stranger's apartment if they had mutual friends in common online. "But then people can have hundreds of Facebook connections with people they don't even know."

For all the fun, eventually she got bored. "It would take too long for them to respond to a message, sometimes conversations would drag on for days and become boring, I got tired of the first messages from lads being a 'd**k pic' or initiating sex. There was no thrill," she says.

"Yeah, it's addictive at the start but it just got to the stage where I was fed up meeting a lot of random guys and not clicking with any of them.

"It's very hard to know if you have chemistry with someone by seeing their photo. When you meet in a bar or through friends, you just know, it's innate."

For 32-year-old *Barry it was all about the thrill of the chase.

"Oftentimes, the anticipation on Tinder would be far more fun than actually meeting them. They never lived up to the expectation. The fact that it is all so easy too doesn't help when you know if they aren't up to scratch you can quickly move on. It means you're always eyeing up the next thing."

This ennui slowly creeping into the Tinder generation isn't unusual. With the dawn of dating apps, people were optimistic. It felt like a genuine opportunity to meet people. But now they are a mainstream part of dating, there's a sense that, if you're single and haven't met anyone, you need to fix that and rapid swiping is the only answer.

It has left many unfulfilled and in a constant state of wondering whether they should give up an app that is making them unhappy or persisting with it, hoping one day it might pay off.

This inner conflict results in many apathetically staying on the apps, but only sporadically using them, wondering where it all went wrong in romance. Even people in relationships still have it on their phone as another option (only 54pc of Tinder users are single).

But if people are growing tired of online dating apps, then what else is out there? When was the last time you saw someone approaching a stranger in a bar, flirting and chatting them up?

With so many relying on the apps to make contact, the art of the real life spontaneous approach has been killed off. As screen writer Maggie Georgiana Young noted: "Seasoned digital daters are like lions who have had their prey killed, butchered, and served to them on a tray in their artificial habitat for so long that they've forgotten how to hunt."

Pointing to the end of days for Tinder, in the past week its parent company has bought the anti-Tinder app, Hinge. Instead of random strangers and rapid swiping you are only matched with people if you have mutual Facebook friends in common. Many are heralding this as the ''new era'' of online dating. But it seems more likely just another spin down the rabbit hole.

Bring back the days of escort cards, at least they naturally met their suitors in the flesh and at parties.

* Names have been changed

Sunday Independent

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