Recorded at the battle of Ideas 2016.
Tinder, Bumble, Hinge, Happn, POF, OkCupid, Grindr - once online dating carried a taboo, but for many, young and old, it is becoming the norm. Market leader Tinder has around 80 million users, while experts estimate that up to 150 million people worldwide use dating apps. While some apps have a particular following among the gay community, the phenomenon is increasingly mainstream. Seemingly more and more hook-ups, relationships and even marriages are initiated by a right swipe – the smartphone gesture to express an interest in someone on Tinder. Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University, has gone as far as to call the proliferation of dating apps ‘the second major transition’ in four million years of heterosexual mating (the first being the early human settlements that came with the agricultural revolution). Many exalt the liberating effect of online dating. Whereas previously it was only possible for a singleton to talk properly to two or three people in a bar on any particular night, now you can interact with hundreds of potential partners from the comfort of your own home. The sting of rejection is less painful on the internet than face to face, as the plethora of choice proves the old adage that ‘there’s plenty more fish in the sea’. Young women in particular can now much more easily engage in a number of short-term relationships while pursuing degrees or careers in their twenties, before settling down and starting a family later on.
Some commentators raise concerns, however, regarding the ease and impersonal nature of dating apps as troublesome. When the sample size of potential partners is so large it’s easy to have the mind-set that there will always be something better at the next swipe. In fact, the ethereal nature of online dating and hook-up culture could be seen as the death knell to romance, long-term relationships and everlasting love. Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales highlights the double standards and innate misogynies of Tinder et al. Some women find every second message they receive is an insulting ‘Wanna f**k?’ So, does the world of online dating, designed to bring us together, actually drive us apart? And where do romance and everlasting love fit in the carefree world of hit it and quit it? Is there a happy ending to the Tinder-Ella fairy tale?
writer; columnist, The Sunday Times
senior lecturer in sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University; author, The Sociology of Generations: New directions and challenges and Baby Boomers and Generational Conflict; co-author, Parenting Culture Studies
writer and consultant; author, Generation Z: Their voices, their lives
television producer and journalist; author of the dating blog, 28 dates later
doctoral student; software developer and biologist at the Center for Systems and Sythetic Biology, University of Edinburgh
partnerships manager, Institute of Idea
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