Here’s what I learned when I was on Tinder: technology, like Cupid, can be punishing
We thought Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) were the new mantras that would solve all our problems. So why is AI failing the millennials in their quest for true love? Algorithms, it seems, are no better than the gods when it comes to giving us what we want.
In the past three and a half months, I have been ghosted, mosted, and zombied*. I must admit I have done my bit of shaveducking, and well some ghosting too. But the bottom line is that these past months have been a hell of a ride.
So on this day of February 14, as I delete and uninstall the dating app that is causing a lot of heartburn in the young and the restless today as is evident from the rising barometer of AllIndiaBackchod’s viral V-Day campaign, I cannot but help join the chorus ‘pyar ek dhokha hai’.
Yes, I was on Tinder. No, I am not a millennial. Am way over that. Yes, I went out on a date. With a younger guy. No, I will not tell you the details. Instead, I will tell you some things far more interesting, like how to improve your desirability score.
Young and restless
But before this becomes a mass kiss-and-tell affair, it is worth pondering why despite so many avenues for singles today, the young are unable to find love. Or as the popular narrative goes, they seem to have given up on love. Instead, they wear their singlehood as an armour deflecting public disapprovals by voting for experiences over relationships.
At no time in the history of mankind has it been as easy to be single like it is today. But being independent with a mind and money of your own creates its own pressures. There’s the battle of the sexes. The dreaded ‘F’ bomb that feminism has come to be associated with. Who knows how the hashtag metoo will come to bite. Should I or shouldn’t I? It is no wonder all this cautious living is extracting its price.
Is the battle cry of ‘pyar ek dhokha hai’ then more a result of sour grapes than a realisation that there’s life beyond love? As a younger male colleague tells me philosophically, “If they say they are happy to be single they are faking it.” He explains that the young are compelled to agree with friends that singlehood is indeed bliss when they see their pictures on social media riding into the sunset alone on their Harleys or vacationing at an exotic seaside location with just a book for company.
But despite all the drum beating around the happiness of single life, it would seem there’s an unbearable ennui seeping in. And at such times, like mere mortals, the young too are turning to the higher powers. Their smartphones.
Since technology decided to play Cupid, it has been creating havoc with everyone’s dopamine levels. We thought AI and ML were the new mantras that would solve all our problems. But it seems, algorithms are no better than the gods when it comes to giving us what we want.
Tinder loving care
As I sat debating these and other things one winter evening with my younger colleagues over hot samosas and tea, I was challenged to install Tinder and find out for myself. Stop judging, I was told.
So I wore my outsider hat and jumped the wall into the citadel of young love. Whether or not I came out unscathed is a different story for a different time. Ha!
And what do you know, there was an instant match. Talk about new brooms sweeping clean. All of us on the table jumped with joy. ‘Hello, beautiful,’ the guy said. I marvelled at how fast this worked. How did people know already that I was now a Tinder resident?
With each swipe, there were more coming. It was an unending stream of men as if standing in a long queue waiting for me to reject or accept. Wasn’t this something like a scene from KJo’s movie where a girl named Poo does the same thing in a make-believe college in London? Talk about empowerment. I was hooked.
At first, it did feel make-believe. Who were these people? The bios did not reveal much, but most of them were either foodies, loved to travel, or gym junkies. And some ‘Netflix-and-chill’ kind of guys. (But I kept it simple. Me: ‘Do you read?’ Matched guy: Not really. Unmatched.)
They had well-groomed pictures, in some cases six-pack selfies (are these even real?). And then, as time went by the pictures of guys with pets (sometimes with a python) began to be replaced with guys with women who looked like their wives, while some even posing with their children (what were they thinking?).
But it is just as well. We Indians are known to Indianise everything. Why else will a McDonald's or a KFC replace the meat in hamburgers with aloo tiki? And so I found out that Tinder was not just a hook-up place. Phew. There were bios proclaiming ‘here to make friends,’ or ‘conversation and coffee,’ or some such euphemisms. As a profile that I swiped left that made me roll my eyes said, “Yes, I am happily married. But I am here to make friends. Nothing wrong with that.”
What do women/men want?
For those (like some of my friends) who do not know how dating apps, especially Tinder, work, here’s a quick tutorial. After you have downloaded the app, you create your profile with a few pictures and a bio (pretty much like any social media app). Depending on your preference, the app shows you profiles of men or women. If you swipe left, it is ‘Nope’, if you swipe right it is, well, hell yeah!
“It’s like Uber,” my friend in Delhi exclaims after I show her how it works. “But tell me something, will my friends and relatives get to know if I am there like it happens on Facebook?” she asks after being convinced she should give it a go. “What’s the harm, I am single now,” she quips.
Once there’s a match, you can start a conversation with the other party. And this is where everyone gets tongue-tied. As yet another young male colleague and a Tinder resident points out, “There are no conversations. I am yet to meet a woman who has swept me off my feet by just her wit alone.” My, my!
My women colleagues though have tons of stories to tell. “There’s the mandatory flirting, then your WhatsApp number is extracted, and then you are bombarded with d#@* pics,” one tells me. It seems there is no dearth of creeps on the app.
But to be fair, I was told by a ‘match’ that he had been requested for his nude pictures many times by women on the app. There was another who said the women were only interested in one-night stands and would refuse to meet him again saying they were getting married. It was difficult for me to answer with a straight face that perhaps he was doing something wrong that pushed them away.
According to a survey by Tinder last year, Indian women look for a sense of humour (24.5%), followed by shared values and interests (24%), intelligence (22.9%) and lastly good looks (20.9%) when judging the men on the app. Men prefer good looks (30.6%) above sense of humour (25.2%) or shared values and interests (24.1%).
As a Huffington Post article notes: “Clearly, being an intelligent or a well-read woman isn't a very desirable quality, according to most Indian men on Tinder.”
The ones you match sit as trophies in your chatbox until either of you decides to unmatch, whereupon one head or two go missing, along with them the chat history is lost. Wonder what happens to those hundreds and thousands of bytes. Do they end up in some kind of an ‘unmatched box’ in Tinder’s servers? Surely not. It would collapse under the weight of its rejections.
*Over these many weeks, I have had matches where the men suddenly disappeared (ghosted) after starting a conversation, have shown too much interest and then went quiet (mosted), or have suddenly reappeared after a long silence (zombied). I have shaveducked a few, meaning, I went for their bearded looks and was horrified to see their clean-shaven pictures later. It was a relief to know that my above experiences are shared by many globally such that they have come to be defined as a dating trend.
Method in madness
Present in 196 countries, Tinder claims to record 1.6 billion swipes a day. As a consequence, there are one million dates a week. There have been 20 billion plus matches, including that of Sean Rad, Founder and Chairman of Tinder, with Alexa Dell, daughter of Michael Dell. The two were dating after they matched on Tinder.
Alexa is now engaged to a multi-millionaire real estate magnate.
During the holiday season and days leading to events like today, there is a spike in activity on the dating app. The last notification on my app informed me to login as there were “3X chances of finding a match”.
The Tinder India team refused to answer a few questions I had, so I am going by what was reported in the media. Apparently, India is Tinder's largest market in Asia, with the app getting over 14 million swipes each day (in 2016). Reportedly, one million 'Super Likes' are sent in India each week, with women sending more Super Likes than men.
Though there is no clear data on the ratio between men and women on the app in India, according to a press statement in 2015, Tinder had said it had witnessed a 400 percent increase in downloads in the country in the past year, and women were more active on the app than men.
But looking at the long faces of my young male friends, I am ready to bet there are more men than women on the app. Or, unlike the men, who I am told swipe right more often, the women are more picky.
It is only later I figure that there is a pattern to all this madness. The algorithms of Tinder and similar dating apps are designed to hook you into believing that there is an abundance of matches available.
That explains the instant match, which had sent us in raptures when I had just installed the app.
Yeh Elo, Elo kya hai?
Like everything today, your profile also gets rated on Tinder. The number and the quality of matches you receive are based on an internal rating system of Tinder, referred to as the Elo score. Apparently, it is adopted from the chess world where the score is used to rate the player’s skill levels.
Based on your Elo score, Tinder’s algorithms determine whose profiles you are shown and to whom your profile is shown, thus engineering the serendipity of who you match with.
In the first few days of your time on Tinder, your profile is shown to a wider audience that helps you get more matches, making you believe this is heaven.
According to a Reddit post by SwipeHelper, you can organically boost your Elo score if the percentage of people you like, like you back and if more people with better ratings than you are liking you.
“Both swiping right to everyone and to almost no one are penalised, though mass swiping right a lot more severely than being too picky. A right swipe quota of 30-70% seems to be the sweet spot,” the post says.
You are also rewarded if you and your match are having a conversation on Tinder. And needless to say, if you are inactive for long periods of time, your ratings take a beating.
In an interview with FastCompany, Sean Rad says that the “rating is technically not a measure of attractiveness, but a measure of desirability, in part because it’s not determined simply by your profile photo”.
He is quoted as saying, “It’s very complicated. It took us two and a half months just to build the algorithm because a lot of factors go into it.”
Thus, your Elo score is nothing but your desirability quotient. And you know what they say about desire? It wants more.
And so, every evening you end up swiping, hoping there’s happiness at last in the cards being dealt to you. And sometimes, bingo there is when you hear of couples, who met on dating apps, getting married. I know one who is getting engaged next month to her match.
As for the rest, unless they are older and wiser, they continue in the hope of a divine intervention knowing in their hearts ‘pyar ek dhokha hai’... love is but an illusion.
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