For What It’s Worth: Implications of Ease

Reading Nancy Jo Sales’ article, “Tinder and the Dating Apocalypse,” I couldn’t help but think about how Tinder was designed — especially as Tinder took to Twitter to defend it’s purpose as a meaningful connector. How did a tool designed to facilitate interaction spiral into a factory for shallow human experiences? Is something wrong with the design? Or is something wrong with us, as people?

The paradox of the whole thing is that, if you drink the human centered design Kool-Aid (which I admit, I do, most of the time), empathy is the key ingredient in the secret sauce of elegant design. If you understand your end user’s desires, you can design something that feels natural, that leads to “frictionless experiences.” But, as designer Steve Selzer points out in his article, “Why Empathy Isn’t Everything”, frictionless experiences have unintended consequences. You have to ask yourself: isn’t it struggle that builds character? Isn’t fear the beginning of many great victories? If we eliminate all of that, in the context of romantic relationships, what’s left?

Reducing the friction in romance, making sex too efficient and easy, reduces our ability to empathize — it reduces our incentive to see people as well … people. As my eyes darted through Nancy Jo’s article, digital buzzwords attacked my psyche: productivity. metrics. gamification. Men quoted in the piece brag about their “text game” and subsequent ability to sleep with multiple women for under $80 in New York City. From a rational, economic perspective, it makes perfect sense. Why not reduce costs while maximizing results? But, what’s the point? Isn’t it cheaper to sit in your room and masturbate, if your intention is to stick your member into any accessible hole? Why bother?

It feels like we’re living in a video game. As a player, you stare at a screen, pick a character, go through the motions, and either score or don’t. If you lose this life, don’t worry; there is always the next swipe. There is no empathy in this game — we don’t need to know the other person as a human being. Seemingly extinct, courtship was labeled a dinosaur in this article. Courtship, wrought with anxiety-ridden fear of rejection (and in turn, excitement), has taken a backseat to rapid, numbing thumb movements.

That isn’t to say that companies like Tinder shouldn’t exist. Staunch “innovation” advocates will be the first to say that if people are using a product, then there is a need that is being met. What confuses me is that no one in the article seems altogether satisfied with Tinder. The article’s first paragraph reads, “ ‘Tinder sucks’ they say, but they keep swiping.” Nancy Jo likens Tinder use to sex gorging. I suppose the plus side of gorging is that it eventually gets kind of old. I know, because once I tried to eat 5 grilled cheeses, and it got pretty boring. Maybe the point is that I didn’t resist the temptation to try it.

Of course, I’m sure there are people who have wonderful experiences on Tinder. But for those who don’t love it, why are they using it? This conjures up the age-old argument between Rousseau and Hobbes — are our civilization’s tools [ahem, Tinder] corrupting innately good, empathetic people or do we, as brutes, require a society-imposed moral code to be “good”? What does “good” mean in the context of dating and how is Tinder potentially breaking that down? Is Tinder just facilitating what people would naturally do anyway? Nancy Jo’s article argues that Tinder’s popularity is changing our established social code: people no longer have to work that hard to have sex, so the incentive to establish relationships is essentially squashed. I’m not necessarily saying that relationships are what’s “good” but a mutual respect is, and that seems to be lacking, too. It all comes back to ease, and the trap that this ease presents.

With the advent of convenient consumer apps, is our new human burden to resist ease? To exercise self-control — to realize that we could’ve flown ourselves to a tropical island if we stopped using Uber so much. Or taken the time to a foster a true connection if we invested in someone rather than reaching for the next swipe on Tinder. What is the digital social contract? What are we willing to give up in exchange for ease?

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