Dating apps are a consumer re-packaging of love


I swiped and I swiped and then… I met you. Might this be the most likely adage we hear in the wedding vows of the future? Research this year showed that for the first time ever meeting online or via dating apps exceeded more traditional meeting methods (such as via friends or in the work place) as the way couples get together.

Big tech has crept into every area of our lives, re-configuring all aspects of our day to day life- from how we communicate through to how we purchase nearly everything- and the ever expanding growth of dating apps and sites consolidates this. It’s hardly surprising that this, our most human of needs, was to be re-packaged and commodified. But by gamefying dating and the pursuit of true love, has it become a consumer product?

Dating apps mimic consumer models in a number of ways. By reducing ourselves to a profile there is a sense of turning oneself into a product. In particular, when we consider how visually based these apps are; not just in how we look but also what the images tell or sell about our lifestyles. Stylish cafe shots or international holidays. All products with a price tag. And the algorithms powering them have been shown to re-enforce racism and societal biases. And the questions asked or information we provide on them all smack of branding ourselves and our lives. So your life, your looks, your products all become part of your sexual or social capital to be traded on a platform.

And dating apps aren’t designed for you to succeed in your pursuit of love. The model depends on failure. If you really found a lasting relationship you wouldn’t use it. Your lack of success and satisfaction keeps you coming back to the platform, keeps you swiping. The addictive nature of these apps is well known. Silicone Valley’s great export dopamine keeps users swiping for more. Research has shown that users frequently keep swiping, looking for matches rather than messaging or connecting with those they already have. Unable to gain fulfilment from them we instead settle for the little boost that comes from a match, a dopamine hit.

Dating has long been predicated on spending money. The notion of going “on a date” began rising over the latter half of the 20th century. Going to bars or restaurants, an idea that pop culture reflected right back at us. Sex and the City and the never ending string of high end restaurant dinners now seems impossibly dated in Brexit bitten, anxiety fuelled and financially hit Millennial London. And whilst obviously there are cheaper ways to date the Tinder model or classic “Tinder date” does generally mean the spending of money. Often on multiple occasions over the course of a week due to the multiple date scenario that it has become known for.

But perhaps the way in which dating apps have most commodified relationships is in the way that they require us to simulate human connection. When messaging one another we need to manufacture that most fleeting of human interactions: a spark. Which seems antithetical to the very nature of human attraction. The intricacies and minutia of which often isn’t easily articulated. We find chemistry with one another in unexpected ways. Sometimes we can clearly state a reason for liking or being drawn to another person (a similar taste, a common interest) but often it is a lot more subtle than that. Mannerisms or moments of emotion, shared moments are impossible to put on an app.

The screens instantly remove what it’s all about; human connection. Arguably making what we find instead disposable, easy to swipe and move onto the next one. The knock on effect of this also is that we are all living in a world where we interact less and less, instead constantly glued to our phones and our screens. So the lack of connection becomes two fold. We look online finding less satisfaction but are then reluctant to look in the real world instead because it has become more alien to us.

Love is not renowned for rationale. If we’re to believe all the great art, books and films that so feed our appetite for it, it is frequently an irrational, heady and inexplicable emotion. To suppose that you can quantify whether you might be able to fall in love with someone- that it might be a calm and logical choice to be added up- seems both unlikely and unromantic. Or as the philosopher Slavoj Zizek notes it becomes analogous to “caffeine free coffee”.

Love is one of our most existential and dangerous adventures. That doesn’t seem something we can find with a click.

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