If you are a romantic, you are probably not on Tinder, the latest big addition to the online dating world. Tinder is the aptly named heterosexual version of Grindr, an older hook-up app that identifies available gay, bisexual, or "curious" partners in the vicinity.
It is also the modern blend of hot-or-not, in that users are required to judge pictures from fellow Tinderers by simply swiping right if they like them or left if they don't, and 1980s telephone bars, in that phone flirting precedes face-to-face interaction.
Thus Tinder is hardly original, yet it has taken the mobile dating market by storm: despite launching only last year, an estimated 450 million profiles are rated every day and membership is growing by 15% each week. More importantly, and in stark contrast with the overwhelmingly negative media reception, Tinder has managed to overcome the two big hurdles to online dating. First, Tinder is cool, at least to its users.
Indeed, whereas it is still somewhat embarrassing to confess to using EHarmony or Match.com, Tinderers are proud to demo the app at a dinner party, perhaps because the alternative – logging off and talking to others guests – is less appealing.
Second, through eliminating time lags and distance, Tinder bridges the gap between digital and physical dating, enabling users to experience instant gratification and making Tinder almost as addictive as Facebook (the average user is on it 11-minutes per day).
But the bigger lessons from the Tinder effect are psychological. Let me offer a few here:
• Hook-up apps are more arousing than actual hook-ups:
In our technosexual era, the process of dating has not only been gamified, but also sexualised, by technology. Mobile dating is much more than a means to an end, it is an end in itself. With Tinder, the pretext is to hook-up, but the real pleasure is derived from the Tindering process. Tinder is just the latest example for the sexualisation of urban gadgets: it is nomophobia, Facebook-porn and Candy Crush Saga all in one.
• Digital eligibility exceeds physical eligibility:
Although Tinder has gained trustworthiness vis-à-vis traditional dating sites by importing users' pictures and basic background info from Facebook, that hardly makes Tinder profiles realistic. What it does, however, is to increase average levels of attractiveness compared to the real world. Given that most people spend a great deal of time curating their Facebook profiles – uploading selfies from Instagram and reporting well calculated and sophisticated food, music, and film interest – one is left wondering how on earth Tinder users are single in the first place … but only until you meet them.
• Evolutionary and social needs:
Like any successful internet service, Tinder enables people to fulfil some basic evolutionary and social needs. This is an important point: we tend to overestimate the impact of technology on human behaviour; more often than not, it is human behaviour that drives technological changes and explains their success or failures. Just like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, Tinder enables people to get along, albeit in a somewhat infantile, sexual and superficial way. It also enables us to get ahead, nourishing our competitive instincts by testing and maximising our dating potential. And lastly, Tinder enables users to satisfy their intellectual curiosity: finding out not only about other people's interests and personality, but what they think of ours'.
• Tinder does emulate the real dating world:
As much as critics (who are beginning to resemble puritans or conservatives) don't want to hear it, Tinder is an extension of mainstream real-world dating habits, especially compared to traditional online dating sites. This has been an important lesson for data enthusiasts who have tried to sterilise the game of love by injecting rigorous decision-making and psychometric algorithms into the process. Well, it turns out that people are a lot more superficial than psychologists thought. They would rather judge 50 pictures in two minutes than spend 50 minutes assessing one potential partner.
This reminds me of a TV show we created a couple of years ago; we profiled over 3, 000 singletons using state-of-the-art psychological tests and created 500 couples based on psychological compatibility… but ignored looks and race. When the couples finally met – even though they trusted the science of the matching process – they were 90% focused on looks and only decided to date a second time if they were deemed equally attractive or worthy of each other's looks.
So, just like the social dynamics at a bar, Tindering comprises a series of simple and intuitive steps: you first assess the picture, then you gauge interest and only then you decide to start a (rudimentary) conversation. Clearly, psychologists have a lot of work to do before they can convince daters that their algorithms are more effective.
• Romanticism is dead, except in retail: This is not a cynical statement. Let's face it, if it weren't for Valentine's Day and the engagement industry, we would have officially moved beyond romanticism by now. The realities of the dating world could not be more different. People are time-deprived, careers have priority over relationships, not least because they are often a prerequisite to them, and the idea of a unique perfect match or soul-mate is a statistical impossibility.
Yes, some people still embrace a certain degree of serendipity, but the abundance of tools – admittedly, most still under construction – to reduce the huge gap between demand and supply is bound to make the dating market more efficient and rational, even if it doesn't translate into long-term relationship success.
Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at University College London and vice-president of research and innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems. He is co-founder of metaprofiling.com and author of Confidence: Overcoming Low Self-Esteem, Insecurity, and Self-Doubt