HBO doc examines how Tinder has fundamentally impacted dating

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A new HBO docu-series about modern dating culture is being described as both a ‘horror movie’ and a ‘profoundly sad’ look at how much more difficult it has become to find a lasting relationship.

Swiped: Hooking Up in the Digital Age premieres today, September 11, on HBO, and the ten-part series has already earned quite a bit of buzz.

Most tellingly, though, the buzz seems to most be coming mostly from members of the media who are older than the target demographic of dating apps, indicating that the unique struggles that younger generations face when it comes to dating are news to them.

Swiped comes from journalist Nancy Jo Sales, and is a continuation of a 2015 Vanity Fair piece she wrote titled Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse.

In the series, Sales investigates how online dating has had a profound impact on gender issues, rape culture, and relationships in general.

‘I think that what the film is trying to do is to get us to look at the technology and what it means and what it’s doing to us, how it’s changing our culture, how it’s changing the way we treat each other, how we interact,’ she told NPR.

‘And I think some of these results and ramifications are pretty bleak. But what I wanted to do and what I tried to do in the film was, No. 1: to get people to think about that and examine that, but also to bring to life and humanize the people in these stacks of pictures.’ 

It includes interviews with industry leaders, including Tinder co-founder Jonathan Badeen, Bumble founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, Hinge founder Justin McLeod, and Match Group CEO Mandy Ginsberg. 

There are also interview with academics who, according to HBO, ‘provide social and historical context for the rapidly evolving nature of dating today’. 

Mostly, though, the series focuses on the impact of these apps on the people who use them, and how they are changing culture. It asserts that 18- to 30-year-olds spend 10 hours a week on dating apps, yet shows that most of them are unhappy with their experience.

‘I think the film represents a broad spectrum of people who have had different kinds of experiences,’ Sales told HBO. ‘I was very conscious of that. 

‘I don’t think I’ve ever interviewed a single person who has just said across the board, “I love these [apps], I think they’re perfect, no complaints whatsoever.” That’s just not what you hear. 

‘Even people who have gotten married on these platforms complain about them.’

The problem, she says, is not hook-up culture. It’s that at the end of the day, most people using these apps — both male and female — actually want a long-term relationship, but aren’t find one.

‘Tinder’s own survey says that 80 per cent of users are looking for long-term relationships. People want love; they want a real connection. But there isn’t data about how these apps are going to help us do that,’ she said. 

The series looks to explore why these apps aren’t working the way people want, and how they are disrupting dating and relationships in general. 

Evolutionary psychologist David Buss says part of the issue is that a photo on a dating app or site ‘tends to swamp all the other information’ — meaning, all the emphasis is on someone’s appearance, to a degree that it wasn’t in the past.

Also, he added, people now have endless potential mates to swipe through, which ‘triggers this short-term mating psychology in a way that never would have been triggered ancestrally.’

But as the show points out, it’s not quite so easy to just opt out of dating apps, which have become ubiquitous.

For one, those who don’t conform can be seen as suspicious. 

‘I do remember when you used to call people on the phone,’ one of the young singles in the series says in the trailer. ‘Like, if you have a crush on someone. 

‘That probably doesn’t happen anymore. I think if you called someone these days you’d probably get labeled a psychopath.’

Sales touched on that point, too, saying that relying on apps has made people less open to meeting organically — or less willing to risk getting turned down in a face-to-face setting.

‘The “genius” of Tinder was that it relieved people of the fear of rejection,’ Sales told the Washington Post. ‘That’s good in certain ways, but what’s lost is the serendipity of chance meeting — the “romance,” if you will.’

The series also touches on how people of color face additional issues on these apps.

‘I think that dating apps normalize things that are unacceptable,’ Sales told NPR. ‘And one of the things we just talked about, objectification, and another thing … we heard about racism. 

‘Because it’s somehow considered, on these apps, OK to choose what you want in a romantic partner. And sometimes that veers toward what some of our African-American characters are experiencing as racism. And that’s not OK. 

‘Imagine being a woman, age 22, 23, 24, and going on a dating app and … swiping on people and seeing a profile — which they said they saw pretty regularly — that actually said, and this is a quote, “no blacks.”‘

Sales also hopes one of the takeaways people have from her work is a discussion of dating apps and sexual violence.

‘I was really not aware of this, I would say, relationship between dating apps and rape culture before I started interviewing young women for the film,’ she said. ‘There’s a real problem with it, you know? 

‘I’m hoping that this conversation will begin in a real way. Especially in the #MeToo moment, we have women speaking up about sexual harassment, sexual assault. And yet the place where I would say it’s likely that they’re experiencing a lot of this the most — in their dating lives, on dating apps — is not being talked about.’

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