Does the addictive new dating application Tinder have users hooked on playing the field?

Tinder: Any dry inflammable substance that readily takes fire from a spark and burns or smoulders – Oxford English Dictionary.

It appears that a spark has indeed ignited in Finland. A new dating application bearing the name has infiltrated the Finnish dating market, with 2 per cent of the population already registered and gaining approximately 2,000 new users each day, according to Rosette Pambakain, VP of Communications and Partnerships at Tinder. Originating in the USA, it has spread and established its hegemony in the international dating world.

Tinder is an application which allows its users to swipe through potential date candidates with both the ease and efficiency of online shopping. Only bite-size information is available: up to six photos, a first name, age and a brief “about me”. It also reveals any mutual friends and interests through accessing the user’s Facebook account. In the same way that online shopping criteria can be adjusted, candidates may be adjusted by age, gender and distance from the user. Once the account is set up, another user appears. The screen shows two options: Swipe left: bin. Right: yes, please! If both users have swiped right for each other it’s a “match”, and chatting has been unlocked.

Malin* has used the application to find a few dates already. “I’ve found people that are very unlike me, which is one of the things I like about Tinder,” she states. “There is the potential to meet someone who you wouldn’t necessarily hit it off with in ‘normal circumstances’.”

Users in Finland: 102,000
Age group peak: between 19 and 22
Just under 20 per cent of their age group
Source: Miltton Creative

Not everyone uses it for dating, though. “I use the app to alleviate momentary boredom,” reveals another user, Tuomas*. “I haven’t run into anyone interesting enough so far to suggest a meet up.”

The obvious superficiality of Tinder, along with its pronounced ease and efficiency, may feel disquieting. It can make dates feel both expendable and impersonal. However, rather than being a derivative of the application, such behaviour may be a result of a more subtle, underlying change in society.

Reflecting changing social currents

According to Mikko Hautakangas, a media researcher at the University of Tampere, Tinder reflects changing attitudes of dating in general. The compact package of visual and written information presented by users on Tinder, which contributes to the ease and efficiency of its use, connects with the bigger picture of social media, self-publicity and presentation that has a strong current in modern media culture.

“The media is full of different representations of the self,” Hautakangas explains. “This applies not only to romance but to professionals alike. We have things like LinkedIn professionally and Facebook socially. These things are all connected.”

Attitudes towards presenting ourselves publically are changing, in liaison with attitudes towards dating. For Hautakangas this reflects part of a bigger change in society where we are trying to create a “portfolio” of ourselves.

“With applications like this you can scan through galleries and create an ideal picture of what you want, and that’s a paradigm change. In real life people would seldom think of it that tightly,” explains Hautakangas, showing how dating has begun to follow a market value model.

But the picture of Tinder need not be so bleak. As Hautakangas mentioned, the app may reflect changes that have already taken place in society. Let us not romanticise the reality of meeting someone in a bar. As Malin puts it, “The main difference is that you’re not drunk.”

The parallels, however, are more profound. “You do the exact same thing one would do at a bar: you base your first impression on what he or she looks like,” Malin observes.

According to Hautakangas, Tinder is just a more mechanic, structured version of going to a nightclub. “You catch a glimpse of someone that might be interesting, and approach them. Things like Tinder only increase the volume and reach of opportunities.” He sees the key difference being the ease of use, and having the whole world within your reach. “It’s like shopping in a way.”

Diving deeper: beyond the surface

Although it may seem superficial, Hautakangas explains that it doesn’t diverge far from the non-virtual world. “Of course [a photograph is not] the whole truth, but then again what is? That’s how people present themselves in real life. If you go out clubbing you put on clothes that you want people to see you in. You put on make-up. You talk to people and choose what to tell them,” says Hautakangas.

The way we portray ourselves may not be the whole truth, but is often indicative of it. Both Malin and Tuomas say they have used photos to portray their personality.

“I’ve picked out the ‘best’ ones from Facebook,” says Tuomas. “I’ve also chosen a variety of situations such as surfing and parties to give conversation starters.”

Social media may also allow the user to emphasise other things besides appearance, which may not be possible in other social contexts.

“It puts more focus on things like hobbies, and you have to think carefully of what you want to reveal of yourself,” says Hautakangas, explaining that there are subtle manners in which people “choose their playground”, or social circle – from photos, to self-descriptions. “Something that sticks out to me is this fitness thing, which seems to be in vogue. People talk about themselves in terms that resemble marketing brands: they talk about achieving good results through hard work, and these constructed bodies are then displayed as signs of a disciplined, successful life.”

Sometimes the message is even clear. “About me” sections are not always cryptic; one warns “I am the guy that your mother warned you about.”

Other times it is less clear what the individual on the other end is really like. One Tinder meet up in Australia earlier this year ended up in a murder. Whilst the majority of Tinder users are genuine, and although the user is still in charge of who they swipe, it is still important to exercise caution when meeting up with strangers.

On a more positive note, by considering both subtle and direct messages that the user can put across, it becomes clear that Tinder may not be as superficial as it first appears. “It’s an app that makes you chose people based on appearance, so there is an inherent superficiality to it,” Tuomas reflects. “Yet when you get to talking to anyone, you can make a choice whether to engage someone based on their personality or appearance.”

Malin says that she has only been on dates with guys who have been interesting to chat to, with something appealing about their profile – when it comes to actually going on a date, it’s more than the photos that count.

How modern dating has changed

What differentiates Tinder from other forums of online dating is that it requires far less effort. Tinder requires but a photo. The pool of choice is much larger, as more people are drawn to its simplicity and to its game-like nature. It’s also trendy.

“What’s special about Tinder is that it’s so big, so in fashion,” says Hautakangas. “It’s very light hearted in that sense. The fact that it’s a mobile application makes it feel like it’s almost like a game. It’s part of a cultural fad that people want to tap in to.” This may be what attracts users particularly between the age between 19 and 22, the age at which its users peak.

Hautakangas adds that dating culture has clearly changed in Finland as well. “People go out on a lot of dates and see a lot of people just for fun.” However, Hautakangas doesn’t blame that change on Tinder, which he says only reflects a change that has already taken place.

When asked if he believes Tinder may have a negative impact on relationships, Hautakangas comments that, “it’s the general self-centred attitude that may be damaging to long term relationships rather than dating culture itself.”

Yet it doesn’t necessarily make finding a meaningful relationship more difficult, he consoles. “You can meet a meaningful relationship anywhere. You can meet someone in a grocery store so why not on Tinder.” He suggests using questions, or ‘scanning’ to find people looking for something similar.

Hautakangas also argues that when it comes to pursuing meaningful relationships, not much has changed. “The basic needs and basic wishes are pretty much what they have always been. People want to be loved and to trust someone and build a future with someone.”

Tinder appears to have surfaced as a result of a growing appetite in modern social culture, combining social media and dating effectively. In the end, for an individual to find what they are looking for is up to them and their personality. It is just a case of effective communication, and marketing to attract the preferred audience.

*Names have been changed.

Alicia Jensen