Swiping for instant gratification: human connection in the 21st century

A familiar formula has emerged among dating apps that is creeping into other areas of our lives, Spark Foundry UK's strategy director explains.

Prior to 2012, the search for love might have involved matrimonial and lonely-hearts ads in newspapers, which would have gone back as early as the 18th and 19th century, or reading through extensive online dating profiles in the 90s and 00s. Post 2012, the faff is reduced with smartphones and apps and a simple tap or swipe.

This dating apocalypse is regularly analysed in the news. Commentators often look at how shallow apps like Tinder, Bumble and Happn are because of how easily people can dismiss prospective and actual dates, as well as the rise in dating behaviours like catfishing, ghosting, and breadcrumbing.

However, reading through Jane Austen’s 19th century novels and we can see that these behaviours are nothing new.

The volume of interactions enabled by dating apps in the 21st century have simply made these behaviours noticeable enough for us to codify them with terms that make the (mis)behaviours tangible. And therein lies the fear that technology has altered the nature of human relationships.

However anthropologist Helen Fischer has many times put to rest anxieties that technology is changing love and marriage, arguing that the brain’s circuitry has evolved so that humans will always search for long-term romantic love and partnership: "The vast majority of people on the internet, even on Tinder, are looking for a long-term committed relationship".

A recent Tinder survey confirmed this – Tinder users are more likely to be looking for a committed relationship than are offline daters. And it’s not just Tinder, it’s all dating apps, according to a University of Sydney study.

What has contributed to the success of dating apps over the last few years (and by success I mean adoption) is not down to solving the age-old question of how to find love, but its ability to find and connect people with common interests in this fast-paced world of eight-second attention spans.

Limiting a search to a physical radius makes the chances of finding a sustainable relationship more likely, and all of this is incorporated into a simple sorting system that’s in play with a simple swipe of yes or no.

In other words, dating apps fulfil the formula which satisfies an instant gratification mindset: connecting people with an interest + proximity + a swipe of yes or no.

And this formula has now extended beyond the realm of dating into other areas of life. There’s Vina, a "Tinder for BFFs" that helps you find new platonic friends (statistically we start losing friends at 25); Shapr and Causr to help you find new professional contacts; Switch to find jobs.

The apps are borne out of tackling major barriers (i.e. dating is a numbers game, but who has time to read through extensive profiles), and, as they become widely used and new behaviours more widely adopted, new apps emerge to solve the barriers the original apps then generated. This is the case with the dating apps: being inundated by choices by limiting matches in a day (Once), dialing up the focus on proximity (Happn), adding additional filters to matches via your extended social network (Hinge) or by education (The League).

What is important to bear in mind, however, is that not all consumer needs can be answered via this See → Swipe → Connect formula. Something as serious as career progression, for example, requires a platform like Linkedin, which enables users to search for information beyond what is served to them by their algorithm. It’s not an instant gratification activity.

Depending on a person’s mindset or the task at hand, the most valuable characteristics of a brand or app may be speed and filters, or it might be an un-sifted wealth of information.

Content may be king but, in this case, context is key. We won’t be suffering from thumb fatigue just yet.

Monica Majumdar is strategy director at Spark Foundry UK

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