Did you know that in 2013, 51% of the Australian population tried online dating? That's double the percentage of online dating in 2010. Online dating is a $108 million industry in Australia. Globally the online dating market is estimated to be worth about $4 billion.
So it's a big market. With a big demand.
Why the demand?
Simple. Men and women are actually terrible at communicating with one another. Specifically, mean re terrible at reading women's body language. Think back to the last time you were in a bar. What percentage of the time do you think women are the ones to put out signals to let men know they are interested?
Ninety percent. Ninety percent of the time flirtacious encounters are initiative by a women through a mix of subtle eye contact, body and facial signals, according to body language experts Barbara and Allan Pease in The Definitive Book of Body Language (great read, by the way).
Here's the problem. Men are terrible at picking up these signals.
"Any man who crosses the floor to chat up a woman," says Mr. Pease, "has usually done so at her request after picking up her body language signals. It just looks as if he made the first move because he made the walk across the floor. Women do initiate 90% of flirtacious encounters but it is done so subtly that most men think they are the ones taking the lead."
Cue Tinder, the dating app that has taken the digitally savvy single set by storm.
There's been a judgemental strain of negative media attention given to the app's 'fast food' approach to dating, calling it 'disgusting,' a contribution to college 'hookup culture', and predictions that Tinder will bring about the eventual downfall of the human race. "If you're not capable of holding real-life conversations in the hope of eliciting romantic outcomes, then you should not be allowed to use technology to cheat," one indignant columnist declared. Whilst I'm sure there are a number of folks Tindering away to make up for a deficit of social skills, I take issue with said columnist's accusation that technology is 'cheating.'
Technology isn't changing human behaviour. It's actually revealing human behaviour.
As Sean Rad, Tinder's brainchild, told the Guardian, the app was created out of necessity - he and his friends wanted to meet new people and found it problematic, stumbling through firsthand experience into the barrier that most men face in talking to women: reading them.
"One thing we hear all the time, particularly from women on Tinder, is that in the real world when somebody approaches them, they could be the most interesting guy in the room - they feel like their personal space has been bombarded, and they feel overwhelmed. As a result, the people who are the pursuers sit back and decide to be introverts and not really pursue that relationship."
And the recipients of all of this attention - women - face a different, but related problem, as Vogue's Karly Sciotino wrote here:
"Girls don't need an app to meet random men. We need an app to get them away from us. If you're a woman living in New York City, and you're at least moderately attractive, it's hard to even buy a tub of hummus without some guy awkwardly trying to flirt with you. You could probably just stick one leg out of your apartment and someone would offer to buy it a drink." Thus, the market for Tinder: "TInder, however, evens the playing field, positioning both sexes as equally lustful."
Like Uber, Amazon, and other successful internet companies, Tinder is the digital solution for a human problem, making a case for using human behaviour as the indicator for the success of technological and digital products. As The Guardian put it,
"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."
The question for me isn't how Tinder (or any technology for that matter is changing human behaviour. It's how human behaviour is shaping the technology we're seeing today.
Life doesn't imitate technology. Technology imitates life.