Tinderization of Feeling
Tinder’s binary mechanisms can be a template for a whole way of life in which everything is an option and processing beats choosing
LIVING with a sense of overwhelming choice means exerting an insane amount of emotional energy in making the most banal decisions. What should you watch on Hulu tonight? Make a Facebook status asking for recommendations. Tweet the question to your followers. After perusing for an hour, settle comfortably into Seinfeld, which you’ve seen a million times before. Wonder whether you made the wrong choice. Do it again anyway. There is some comfort in sameness.
When the mundane act of choosing a television show to watch is emotionally taxing, relationships are next-level shit. But millennials have a solution: Tinderize it. Tinderize it all.
In an increasingly networked society where people are always ready to connect, the pacing of emotional intimacy has to be constantly tweaked. Dating apps facilitate rapid connection and constant communication, but trusting someone still takes as long as it ever did. So Tinder demands a certain amount of emotional dissociation — to distance oneself from emotions by treating connecting to others as a game. The only criteria is to choose and choose fast, choose as many as you want, choose so many you’re not even making a choice. This simplicity can provide sweet relief.
But Tinder is more than a dating app — it is a metaphor for speeding up and mechanizing decision-making, turning us into binary creatures who can bypass underlying questions and emotions and instead go with whatever feels really good in the moment. Its mechanisms perfect the similar either-or options other social media platforms have offered, the yes/no, like/ignore, retweet/pass dichotomy that leaves no room for maybe. Within Tinder, we sort each other into ones and zeroes, flattening away any human complexity, becoming efficient robots. Where a best friend might engage with you about the true motivations behind your choices, Tinder serves as Robot Bestie, there to make complex decisions seem easy, shorn of emotional entanglements.
Tinder offers a model for streamlining virtually any kind of decision making, but the streamlining exacts its price. Swipe right and match, then match again, and then see you’ve received 15 matches in five minutes and could continue on this way indefinitely. It is too much.
At the point of maximum social and techno-sexual stimulation, a total withdrawal — total disconnection amid default connectivity — begins to feel like the only way to actually say no. This coy form of avoidance is not about “playing hard to get”; it’s about preserving one’s sanity in the face of so much connectivity and emotional energy. But this refusal feels not only like a shutdown of others but also of yourself.
TINDERIZING is the millennial’s version of zoning out. Vulnerability is scary and potentially dangerous. Immediacy is comfortable and safe. Avoiding confrontation, often in the form of “ghosting,” becomes a substitute for relaxation. If you don’t follow up about a second date, a late night booty call might still be in the cards, another Tinderized form of intimacy. Swipe right, match, date, fuck, unmatch, rematch, repeat.
As any exposure to Tinder teaches, nothing matters unless you want it to matter. This a line to remember when things get weird, to repeat to your bestie while you swipe together, checking in about matches, screengrabbing conversations and sharing them with each other before responding, and texting, always texting.
Absenting oneself from potential intimacy is to come off as “chill,” a cultivated state of being in the era of general Tinderization. “Passion is polarizing; being enthusiastic or worked up is downright obsessive,” writes Alana Massey in “Against Chill.” The concept of Chill rationalizes self-centeredness as an acceptable by-product of too many choices. To remain chill is to drop off, not reply to texts for days because you are receiving too many. There are too many relationships to manage and not enough energy for your own relationship to yourself. As Massey writes, “‘Excessive Chill’ is ‘You do you’ taken to its most extreme conclusion, giving everyone’s opinions and interests equal value so long as they’re authentically ours.”
Tinderization facilitates chill. But it achieves this through depletion as much as through saturation. So many choices become too little energy.
The quintessential exponents of Tinder chill are perhaps the Softboy and the Fuckboy. In “Have You Encountered the Softboy?” Alan Hanson explains these types: “The Fuckboy is perplexed that you were upset when he forgot to text you for three days and then sent ‘what are you up to’ at last call. The Softboy knows this behavior is selfish and cruel, though his desire to get laid can trump this. He feels shame. He does it again.” Call a Softboy out on not responding to your texts and he’ll offer an explanation of what he’s going through, that he cares a lot about you but you’re “stressing him out.” Call a Fuckboy out and he’ll tell you to “chill” or “calm down.” But they’re both telling you the same thing.
That is not to say chill is limited to such men; people of any gender can participate in chill. The only requirement is that you don’t acknowledge it. To remain chill is to ignore without intention, not because you chose to but because you don’t have the emotional energy to reply to everyone. The more we Tind, the seemingly chiller we become. But really we are just overwhelmed with faces behind screens, with serial objectification and passive evasion. Away from the screen, chill seems less chill and more like a sad wish that people were more robotic, without needs or feelings, hermetically self-fulfilling and self-fulfilled.
But chill is by no means limited to Tinder. The Tinderization of Everything occurs when we adopt Tinder’s coping strategies to deal with anyone or anything that might surface in our networks. By maximizing our connectivity and network exposure, we assure ourselves that we have entirely too many options to do anything more complex than yes/no, left/right, like/skip, retweet/ignore, 001010011010111 and keep on scrolling. Only a like or a retweet or a match gives us pause to enjoy the pangs of pleasure, which go away as soon as you stop refreshing notifications.
The Tinderization of Everything lures you into Epic Chill, the point of constant ignore. The immediacy of every dopamine hit replaces the pursuit of more complicated connection and entanglement. A match on Tinder begins to feel the same as a Facebook like, a Twitter retweet, the ding of a text message from someone cool who you do want to talk to — or even someone you don’t want to talk to, but who is providing you attention. At this point full Tinderization has taken place, and nothing at all feels meaningful — not even the dopamine. One feels fried.
The epitome of Chill is to ignore everyone but yourself. Tinderizing Everything totalizes that process. Tinderization takes the form of crowdsourcing decisions, as the Jyst app attempts to help you do, or real-life decisions, as the artist Marc Horowitz did in the project The Advice of Strangers, in which he obeyed an anonymous online community. Similarly, the app Free makes the process of meeting up with friends even more passive than posting a Facebook Event; it permits users to swipe events away before they even occur.
The new app Twindog, launched in December 2015, offers dog owners a way to meet other dog owners using Tinder’s mechanisms. No more dog park mingling; just swipe to find a pooch soulmate! Never mind whatever canine instincts that determine whether one dog will like another when the owner is swiping. Instincts can be overridden.
TINDERIZING can surpass romantic relationships, and if you get sucked in, you can find yourself living in a yes/no, chill/ignore, 0110101011 existence. You’ll find yourself stuck on Amazon or Yelp for hours, looking for the perfect dustbuster or the best Japanese restaurant in your area, unwilling to choose because there could be a better option ahead in the information stream.
You can only get out of the Tinderization by including your bestie, your community, a group of trusted friends, in the process. By prompting you to discuss the emotional intricacies of the conversations you’re having and the vibes you’re feeling through the smartphone screen, these rescuers force you to acknowledge that intricacies are welcome — necessary to the process of getting to know someone well. To be without intricacies is to be without emotional boundaries, to disregard whoever whenever. Besties save you from your shit. They are your heart, and they transcend any efficiency that the Tinderization Bestie Robot attempts to offer you in its binary fantasy.
Tinder doesn’t have to lead to Tinderization. Tinder can serve as a way to verify a connection rather than to create it from scratch. Matching with someone you already know of, for whom you already have some context, can confirm and enrich the overlap of social circles and inject complications. In that case, Tinder is simply facilitating your first date. You have a different sort of emotional accountability. This sort of coincidence has more to do with Tenderizing Something than Tinderizing Everything. A flame transformed into a beautiful slow burn.