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COMM 2725 Digital Cultures

Case Study
Student I.D. 200727571
May 2014
Word Count: 3638
How and why do people use the mobile dating app, Tinder?

Mobile dating applications or apps, are a somewhat new addition to the world of
dating. This being the case, relatively little research surrounding the nature of
using an app for dating exists and so this therefore provides an interesting
research opportunity. As such, the purpose of this study is to gauge a better
understanding into both and how and why people are using the mobile dating
app, Tinder. Tinder is location-based real-time mobile dating application that
grants users of the app the ability to meet new people in their local area. The
way that the app works, is that a user can upload up to 6 photos of their
choosing to the app and write a small textual description about themselves,
containing no more than 500 characters. The profile then goes live, searches for
people in the area (based on parameters that can be set up to a maximum of
100 miles) and when found, displays a cover photo of an individual. The user
then can choose whether to like a person (swipe the picture right) or reject a
person (swipe the picture left). If two people have both swiped right, a match is
made; thereby allowing for users the opportunity to begin a conversation with
each other.
Other research;
Existing research surrounding the use of mobile dating apps are relatively few
and far between, arguably because they are a fairly new platform for dating to
take place. However, I will now draw on what there is, along with studies based
on the analysis of online dating websites to help create an understanding of the
topic. The purpose of online dating is principally for users to meet prospective
partners, normally through the creation of an online profile consisting of text and
pictures. By creating a profile, users are engaging in a system of selfpresentation in which they convey an impression to others which it is in his
interests to convey (Goffman, 1959, p. 4). By this logic, individuals strive to
produce a version of the self that they feel portrays them in their best light in the
hope of obtaining a date. Studies have shown however, that a significant
downfall of online dating, is that people can engage in misrepresentation,
whereby a users online construction of themselves does not fit the actual self.
Following a survey conducted by Gibbs et al (2006), it was found that of users of
one given dating website, 86% felt that others they had come into contact with
on the site, had misrepresented their physical appearance. Similarly, research by
Ellison et al looking into user behaviour on dating websites found that at times,
their need to portray a truthful, accurate self-representation was in tension with
their natural inclination to project a version of self that was attractive,
successful, and desirable (2006:425). Although misrepresentation can be a likely
feature of online dating sites, the general consensus is that most people who
engage in online dating create accurate portrayals of themselves since they act
on the intention of moving to offline relationships, where they meet face-to-face
and hopefully begin a long term relationship.
Where the concept of creating a profile with the intention of meeting new
people is the same case for mobile dating apps, there are some notable
differences which have led scholars to find some interesting results and trends.
Unlike dating websites, mobile dating apps have adopted the use of Global
Positioning System (GPS) technology that has allowed for the creation of
location-based real-time dating (LBRTD). Apps such as Grindr allow gay and
bisexual men to meet local people in their area by giving out an approximate
location. What has become apparent by recent research, is that apps like Grindr
are extensively used by men who have sex with men (MSM) to locate others
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predominantly for the purpose sex, although just chatting occurred too
(Bumgarner, 2013). What Blackwell et al (2014) found insightful, was that users
of the Grindr app in their study felt that the app changed what they regarded as
an overtly heterosexual physical space around them (such as a bar), into a gay
space. The app afforded a new virtual layer over their real physical surroundings,
thus changing the way the user viewed his sense of space. Given that my own
mobile dating app in question uses the same location aware technology as
Grindr, It will be of importance therefore, to look at the role of Tinder in relation
to users sense of space, to see if the app shapes behaviour in anyway or alters
their amount usage of it.
Most would agree that there exists a stigma around the idea of dating. People are
resilient or apprehensive to try something like online dating for fear of being
ridiculed, socially excluded or ultimately judged for their behaviour. According to
Goffman, the idea of a stigma is something that occurs when an individual who
might have been received easily in ordinary social intercourse possesses a trait
that can obtrude itself upon attention and turns those of us whom he meets
away from him, breaking the claim that his other attributes have on us
(1968:15). Visions of seedy, desperate individuals that prey on the unsuspecting
are called to mind when we consider online dating. Indeed, a recent online poll
by Pew asking how people felt towards individuals who use online dating sites,
found their responses to be, people who use online dating sites are desperate
(2013). The reality of the situation though is that this is not the case. Huge
amounts of people happily engage in online dating and wouldnt regard
themselves as desperate, with statistics showing that 11% of American adults
and 38% of those who are currently single and looking for a partnerhave
used online dating sites (Pew, 2013). Ultimately, people now meet online, which
can lead to long term, healthy relationships. Whilst the prevalence of research
surrounding online dating websites is quite extensive, again the case for slightly
newer technologies such as mobile dating apps is rather sparser. However, I
believe the aforementioned applies in the same way to mobile dating apps too
and thereby serves as a suitable framework for my own research. This being the
case, it will be interesting to explore whether users of the Tinder app feel the
same stigma also applies or not.
The use of photography is a central component in this given study since the
function of Tinder centres on the use of photos as way of presenting ones own
identity to potential partners. It is generally accepted that the purpose of
photography has shifted from memorialisation to communication and identity in
the modern age, although the significance of using photos to encapsulate
memories does still remain prevalent and important today. In this study however,
the focus on identity provides a more important theme to my investigation and
will help us to better understand how individuals are using the app. Van Houses
(2011) work on personal photography teach us that we use photos as a tool of
self-representation whereby we perform the self that we would want others to
perceive us as. With the future audience in mind, we create images of ourselves
which resonate with our own views and aesthetics. Van Djick also contributes to
ideas on photography in identity formation. she notes that the endless potential
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of digital photography to manipulate ones self-image seems to make it the


ultimate tool for identity formation (2008:12) and hence makes it easier than
ever before to obtain what Roland Barthes called the idealized self-image or the
one I want others to think I am (Barthes, 1981:13). This notion of being able to
tweak the imperfections, cut, crop and alter the image as we see fit speaks
volumes about the way we can take control over our personal identities and
provide an interesting area of exploration in regard to my own study when it
comes to looking at what Tinder users do with their own photos.
A final relevant area of consideration for this study, would be too look at what
existing literature tell us about mobile media and relationships. As shown by
Christensen, the incorporation of mobile phones by families have become a
central component in the lives of parents by providing a way for them to mediate
feelings of closeness with their children. The practice of connected presence
contributes to the continuous reactivation and reaffirmation of the strong bonds
between family members and comprises elements of parental care and control,
security and mutual accountability and micro-coordination (2009:449).
Additionally, research by Wei and Lo reflect similar findings, demonstrating that
mobiles enhance the bonds between family members, noting extensive use of
cell phones [by women] to show affection to their families while on the move
(2006: 68). Although my study does not focus on how families communicate with
one another through things such as SMS and voice calling, it does hope to
address questions of how people are using Tinder which under this bracket,
might lead to a greater understanding of how individuals establish and maintain
relationships through a mobile dating app as opposed to the other functions
offered by the mobile.
Method;
The chosen method of data collection for this study were qualitative interviews.
According to Berger (1998), a depth interview is typically an extended
conversation that is more highly focused than a regular conversation, which can
sway and move in various directions. The beneficial nature of using qualitative
interviews in a research project is that you can collect a great deal of detailed
information and you can ask follow-up questions and pursue topics that interest
you for a considerable length of time (Berger, 1998:57). 3 interviews were
conducted in total, and each participant was a University of Leeds student, aged
20-21 and are referred to as pseudonyms throughout this study. All 3 students
had been using the Tinder app for a period of 5 months or more at the time of
interviewing. In order to test how and why people use Tinder, I ask questions
which centre on topics of how relationships are initiated, how people view such
relationships via Tinder, how do people use pictures on their Tinder profile, and
when using the app whether they feel a stigma exists.
Results;
Tinder relationships: valued, but also burdensome

Since the primary function of Tinder serves as a way for individuals to meet new
people, I questioned my interviewees on the relationships they had made
through Tinder, looking first at how my users judge who to say yes to (swiping
right), who they reject (swiping left), and from there, the ones who they
successfully gained a match from, how they begin and maintain a relationship
through the app. I learnt from all 3 interviews that the overriding factor for
deciding who to say yes to, was the first picture the users are met with on using
the app. Chances are that the first impression of this first picture was the
deciding factor. If users were unsure whether they liked the look of the person,
they would click on the profile and look through the other available photos. All
interviewees agreed that they did not use the written description available on
Tinder profiles as a means of deciding whether to swipe right. My data highlights
how the visual image is of pinnacle importance when it comes the mobile dating
app, Tinder. Unlike traditional dating websites which place a lot of emphasis on
the textual element of a dating profile, Tinder users pay no interest to text
offered by the app. This therefore allows us to see how mobile dating differ from
online dating.
Upon analysis of the relationships my interviewees had gained from using
Tinder, I was met with 2 distinct themes. Joanne said, Ive met some great
people on Tinder to be honest, I really get on with a few. I havent met them yet
because Ive been snowed under with a lot of work but I feel close to them
because Ive gotten to know them quite well. I miss them if I go a while not
talking. It can be seen then, that Tinder is used by participants in my case study
as a tool for mediating a sense of closeness to one another, regardless of the fact
that they havent actually met face-to-face yet. In this way, it suggests
similarities to prior research (Christensen, 2009; Wei and Lo, 2006)
demonstrating that like other features on the mobile phone, such as calling and
SMS, a mobile app can also be in the same way for individuals to maintain
personal bonds with one another, maintaining relationships. Furthermore, I also
found that users regarded the fact that they can see how far away they are from
their respective matches on Tinder as a beneficial quality because where the app
afforded a way for users to feel emotionally close to one another virtually, the
locative aware technology also added a new layer In which knowing the physical
distance a match was from a user, subsequently allowed them to drawn comfort
in the knowledge that they were close by.
Contrastingly however, I found that Tinder also had a negative quality
when it came to relationships made on Tinder and thus my second theme. If a
user has recently been on the app, the time in which their profile reads as last
active changes. From this then, people who have been matched with the user
can see when they were last online. A number of my interviewees expressed
their dislike of this Tinder feature and noted that it had had a significant impact
on their relationships they had made with people from the app. Chloe stated that
she sometimes likes to go on the app to See who else is out there, too see if I
can get any matches, but what occurred on a number of occasions was that she
came into conflict with her existing matches. She noted how one boy questions
why she hadnt been speaking to him, because he knew from her profile that she
had been online and not continued their conversation. While Chloe previously
was happy with the way the relationship between the two had been going, she
now holds negative feelings towards it, pressurized into maintaining the
relationship, and guilt when she does not. We can see here how such data
mirrors research by Hall and Baym (2011), who identified that increased mobile
maintenance expectations can lead to overdependence and reduced satisfaction
in relationships. Furthermore, as a consequence of overdependence, feelings of
entrapment occur. The same can be said for my study, reflected in the way Chloe
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feels the pressure to reply to her matchs messages and maintain the
relationship. In light of this then, it is easy to observe how Tinders interface can
actually be used as a form of surveillance for its users to monitor each others
activity. This in turn, in cases like this, may unfortunately lead to negative
consequences for some, fuelling things like overdependence and entrapment.
Once a stigma, but now who cares?
Over the course of the interviews, I decided to explore ideas around
stigmatization and whether or not my participants felt a stigma existed around
Tinder. Chloe felt that initially, joining Tinder was a bad idea because she didnt
want to be associated with dating through a medium like Tinder. I dont know
really, I just didnt like the idea of meeting someone like that. Im not a very
confident person as it is, but I still didnt want to use it and be stereotyped as the
girl who cant really get a date and has to resort to talking to people through an
app, rather than actually meeting someone in like a bar. Still though, as Chloe
continued to use the app, she felt the tensions cease and began to enjoy looking
for people in her local area in the hope of getting matched. She went on to say,
the more I started using it, I realised I didnt care, its fun and I see lots of
people from Uni on it as well, so it makes me feel better about myself. All 3
interviewees felt that everybody was now on the app and so served as a
justification for having it. Identifying people they already knew, along with the
view that so many people use it, especially students, made it more socially
acceptable and suggests that such a stigma holds little influence over this mobile
dating app, at least for these interviewees anyway. Although a lack of stigma
appeared to here be the case, I did find that my interviewees held some other
negative connotations toward the app. One interviewee noted that when she
forms matches with people within a 5 miles radius, as opposed to matches with
people much further away, her experience has shown that the boys who talk to
her only have one thing in mind sex. She felt that the boys who were in close
approximation to her tended to ask for sex because the fact that she was close
by suggested a potential opportunity for it. This undesired attention received by
Chloe, highlights the implications that using location aware technology like
Tinder can bring. Even though her intentions for using the app were quite the
opposite, it does demonstrate that intentions may differ among different people.
Indeed, as I went on to find, one of my interviewees intentions for using Tinder
were precisely for finding sexual partners. I only use it to meet fit girls in the
area who would be up for some. For Rhys, Tinder allows him to utilize a medium
which presents opportunities for sexual encounters not previously available to
him. In this regard, like the Grindr app studied by Bumgarner (2013), my data
suggests that Tinder too, can be used as a means of obtaining causal sex if
people do so desire. I also found from Rhys, that when hes visiting a different
city for whatever reason, he continues to use Tinder a lot. To Rhys, his perception
of the space that he inhabits at the time, is altered in his view, as something that
becomes far more sexualised because of the idea that he may meet a girl from
the local area. Thus, this idea resonates with results derived from Blackwell et
als (2014) study, showing how gay men perceive their environment differently
based on the use of the Grindr dating app.
An exaggeration of the truth
Out of my 3 interviewees, I was surprised to learn that 2 of them actively
engaged in the manipulation of the photos they display on their tinder profiles. I
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want to make a good impression, you know, to get a match, so I take what I feel
like are my best photos and edit them first on Photoshop. I dont change
anything drastic, just, if its a beach photo, I slim my stomach down and
sometimes my arms. These results seem to reflect prior research on how
misrepresentation can become common practice on dating websites, and now
evidently on mobile dating apps. Chloe noted that her selection of photos were
based on the way she would want others to perceive her thereby supporting
Goffmans (1959) teachings on self-presentation. I found that where my
interviewees felt their photos portrayed more of an idealized-self compared to
their actual self in reality, they made justifications for this on the grounds that
their photos showed the person they aspired to be like more often in the future.
For example, One of Joannes photos depict her playing guitar. Although the
photo to a prospective other would appear that she can play guitar, the reality of
the situation is that she cannot; only posed with it on one random occasion.
Joanne, however wants to learn to play guitar in the future, so by featuring a
photo like this, she didnt feel like she was deceiving anyone, she was just
demonstrating who she would like to be. According to Ellison et al (2006),
participants featured in their own study also reported the same trend, showing
that they reconciled the conflict of portraying an accurate self and a self that
would be desired by others, by creating profiles which described the intended
future self.
Conclusion;
This study has attempted to bring to light aspects of how and why people are
using the mobile dating app Tinder. As a relatively broad question, the results of
the study demonstrate that individuals who use Tinder possess different
motivations for doing so, but also share common norms over what they would
regard as acceptable behaviour on it. Likewise, I have shown that photos are the
key determining factor for whether a persons profile is liked or rejected. We
might argue that an element of vanity exists in this regard, where other values
and attributes of a person are not taken into consideration. The question that
arises from Tinder, is that is it really a suitable tool for meeting other people with
a long term relationship in mind? My results suggest it can be, given that some
relationships held by interviewees were held in high esteem, whilst others felt it
became more of an annoyance, especially where users seeking only sex were
prevalent. Ultimately, I have only scratched the surface of what more intensive
and specific research could go on to provide. Like with any study, there are some
setbacks to also consider. One being that this study focused only on a small
sample of 3 university students. As such, results should be handled with caution,
given that it would be difficult to generalise these findings with all users of
Tinder. Further research into understanding more about how and why people use
Tinder could include looking at older age groups to see if similar trends exist or
perhaps a quantitative analysis of the amount of users who seek only casual sex
from using tinder would indeed prove interesting.
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