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The Rise of Snap-Judgment Dating

If you haven’t heard of Tinder yet, you probably haven’t been hanging out with any single Millennials lately. The dating app has become big buzz in recent months, finding popularity on college campuses and in urban dating scenes alike. The basic premise of Tinder is to connect you with new people in your area (within a 50 mile radius) that you already have common interests with. Using Facebook information, the service presents potential matches to the user based on a rating composed from a combination of shared friends, interests, and networks. Once two users have expressed mutual interest in one another and a match has been made, they can chat through the app and then meet up in real life.
On one level, Tinder is a perfect example of the technology that facilitates Millennials’ real-life interactions. It connects people with common interests, and allows them to test the waters of communication by chatting casually through the app before deciding to actually meet. A useful service with a positive purpose: helping young digitally savvy people meet and find love, and one that some may say is especially needed in the modern dating world where old structures of courtship have broken down.
But on another level, Tinder puts the superficial snap-judgment front and center in the pre-dating process. The most addictive (and talked about) feature of the app is the ability to filter through potential dates with the swipe of a finger. Images (and the name and age) of possible matches are shown in a seemingly endless stream and then pushed into “like” or “pass” categories— mostly based just on their profile picture, and often in a mere few seconds. Think Hot or Not for dating. To use another comparison, it is essentially the digital version of the now-defunct MTV dating show Next, in which some poor contestants would have barely stepped off the bus before their potential date shouted “Next!” – rejecting them in seconds because of their appearance.
Ironically, according to a Techcrunch review, the makers of Tinder created the app partly because they felt other dating services served up too much rejection and rely too much on profiles. But the image-judging feature they created is too engrossing for the app to live up to their goals, and the snap-judgment sorting of potential dates turns into an almost mindless game. As one user told us of using the match-sorting feature, “I’ll turn on the app when I get on the treadmill and all of a sudden I’ll realize an hour has gone by and I’ve been sorting through people the whole time!” The app itself acknowledges the judgment-game set up, asking after a match has been found whether a user wants to “send a message” or “keep playing.”
Millennials are well-trained in putting their ideal personas forward online, usually choosing only the most flattering images as their profile pictures, and making sure that every detail of their online life is an on-brand depiction of who they want the world to see. But never has so much pressure been put on the image they choose to digitally represent themselves. They may very well be rejected or accepted into someone’s life based just on a single picture of their face.
It isn’t just apps like Tinder that have Millennials hyper-focused on the images they are sending out into the world. A recent piece detailed the potential of Instagram as a dating service, calling it a portrait of a person “beyond selfies.” What better way to get intimate insight into another person’s life and interests than to troll the pictures they choose to display as the visual diary of their lives? It’s true enough, but again the pressure to broadcast images that portray you as a funny, interesting, fun, and attractive person only increases when the network starts to be used as a digital match-maker.

We have already begun to see a backlash amongst Millennials against the mindset that you must always appear as your perfect self online, most literally in the rise of “ugly selfies” detailed in today’s Essentials.  But while Tinder’s popularity only reinforces the demands put on online image that Millennials are constantly navigating, a mass-backlash seems farfetched as long as snap-judgment continues to be so alluring. Instead, the idea that the pictures you choose to display on networks have to live up to a high standard, and could well effect your future, will only continue to intensify.