„The digital has simply become one of the regular conduits of connection for everyday life – digital intimacies are now, quite simply, part of the new shape of human intimacy.“ (Rambukkana 2015)
We think that the technologies we use on a day to day basis create new ways to understand the concepts of intimacy and especially online dating. Ever since the introduction of online dating sites, our behavior towards possible mates has changed radically. But more so, the introduction of dating apps – the possibility to find, talk to and even dumb your future (ex)lover – our understanding of intimacy is changing even faster.
For what we’re trying to do with this project, we need to draw on a variety of cultural theorist and critical thinkers to not only see what is already going on but to say how exactly dating apps expand the existing knowledge. For us, the work of Eva Illouz, Zygmunt Bauman and Jean Baudrillard is promising as a starting point to develop our own theories on.
We draw on existing research about online dating, dating apps, as well as affect theory and the concept of affordances in order to investigate the communication of dating in the digital age.
Online Dating and Dating Apps
Not many other media and communication technologies have evoked as much heated discussions about love, romance, and sex than dating apps such as Tinder, Grindr, OkCupid, etc. While Tinder & Co. have a reputation for being so called hook-up apps, studies on the uses and gratifications of dating apps in fact show that Tinder is more often used to find a steady relationship rather than sexual encounters (Sumter et al., 2016). In this paper, we discuss and examine how the uses and practices of Tinder alter the communication of romantic love and why this communication is vulnerable to failure or non-existent in the first place. We hypothesize that online dating not only spurs a lot of different phenomena in our communicative practices, it turns dating into a game of ‘likes’ rather than actual conversation. We want to argue that dating apps more often engage users in practices of dysfunctional seduction than romance. Understanding seduction as a game (Baudrillard, 1990), in which seducer and seduced constantly raise the stakes for their own ends, dysfunctional seduction sets forth a tipping point during the seductive play that leaves seducer and seduced unsatisfied, which fails the communicative purpose. The communicative practices on dating apps are especially prone to dysfunctional seduction and thereby redefine the users’ notions of romantic encounters. Given the fact that dating apps present first and foremost images of the body as attractive potential, we follow Eva Illouz’s argumentation that the body is involved in the experience of emotions (Illouz, 2007). Illouz further states that romantic attraction is first based on appearances and second on ignorance about why we actually feel attracted to someone. In the case of Tinder, the filling out of a profile functions as emitter of attraction and can be liked, i.e. swiped right, or disliked, i.e. swiped left. The premise is that only if two users swiped each other right, i.e. liked each other’s profile, Tinder allows those users to communicate any further. The seductive play thus has to happen on different stages, which we identify as different levels of the communication process: First, non-verbal communication (matching); second, limited communication (texting in Tinder); third, personalized communication (texting in personal messengers after exchange of phone numbers); fourth, verbal communication (phone/video call); and fifth, face-to-face communication (meeting each other).
Eva Illouz‘ account focuses on mainly dating sites and their effects on the constitution of the self. It is her claim that via the extreme categorisation of dating profiles the self is in a constant „process of reflexive self-observation, introspection, self-labelling, and articulation of tastes and opinions“ (Illouz 2007: 77). This need of self-reflexivity not only strips away a lot of the mysticism that a new encounter entails but also has the romantic encounter precede language. When before, eyes have met, now algorithms on dating sites make you read, not meet.
“When the quality lets you down, you tend to seek redemption in quantity.” (Bauman 2003: xii-xiii)
“Failure of a relationship is more often than not a failure of communication.” (Bauman 2003: 16)
The concept of affordances, as used in media and communication studies, lends itself to study the usage, interpretations and practices of dating apps. Why?Affordances can be defined as the „mutuality between technological shaping and social practices“ (Livingstone 2008: 396). With the concept of affordances we can thus learn about how technologies shape the practices of users, but not determine it:
“Affordances are functional and relational aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object. In this way, technologies can be understood as artefacts which may be both shaped by and shaping of the practices humans use in interaction with, around and through them.” (Hutchby 2001: 44)
The concept therefore provides a middle ground between technological determinism and social constructionism (Norman 2002). We want to use this concept to understand how the social practices and the communication of dating via apps is shaped by the app itself, while simultaneously shapes and is shaped by practices of its users.
Sources (to be completed)
Baudrillard, Jean. Seduction. Transl. Brian Singer. New World Perspectives, 1990.
Illouz, Eva. Cold Intimacies. The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Polity, 2007.Sumter,
Sindy, et al. “Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults’ motivations for using the dating application Tinder.” Telematics and Informatics, vol. 34, no. 1, 2016, 67-78. doi:10.1016/j.tele.2016.04.009
Rambukkana, Nathan (2015): From #Racefail to #Ferguson: The Digital Intimacies of Race-Activist Hashtag Publics. In: Rambukkana, Nathan (ed.): Hashtag publics. The power and politics of discursive networks. New York et al.: Peter Lang, pp. 29-46.