By Andrew Garas
In 2021, online dating apps, Instagram DMs, and memes could be your key to love. But what are these new social media phenomena actually doing to our relationships? The book Logged In and Stressed Out: How Social Media is Affecting Your Mental Health and What You Can Do About It discusses the potentially detrimental effects social media can have on us and our mental health. One of the key parts of this discussion is the relationships and how they have shifted over time and how we can (or can’t) develop these relationships in a digital age.
With the pandemic sweeping through the world in 2020, most of us spent the majority of time inside, isolated, and alone. Because of this, our normal cravings for intimacy increased almost tenfold. Even pre-pandemic, the need for intimacy is wired directly into our brains. A quote from the book states: “The capacity to actually feel love and intimacy is necessary for feeling safe and cared for as well as for cultivating a deep sense of commitment to important relationships in our lives” (source). One of the key ways for us to keep busy nowadays (at least us single people), is to go on dating apps and mindlessly scroll through. Whether it be Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge, all of them use essentially the same formula: you make a profile with a bio and some pictures, view other people’s profiles, and swipe right or left depending on if you “like” them or not. The entire concept of swiping encourages users to stay on the app for longer, but to swipe through profiles as quickly as possible.
What are the implications of this new culture of swiping? Swiping, in my opinion, leads to the commodification of love and relationships. It turns a dating app into an activity, rather than a human interaction. You also are commodifying yourself when you put yourself out there. You present the best version of yourself; only the side you want people to see, almost as if you were marketing yourself. You also tend to compare yourself to others using the app – whether you don’t have as many matches or your photos aren’t as extravagant or nice looking. As the book states, “When we open any number of social media platforms and scroll through photos of vacations, celebrations with family and friends, and our adorable pets, our inner critic might say “I’m not successful enough” or “I’m not good enough”’ (source). It’s not hard to see why dating apps might contribute to this problem – even Instagram seems a bit more like a “realistic portrayal” of yourself. It begs the question – how much of yourself can you really show in a couple photos and a small bio?
It’s clear these apps are flawed – most people know that, but yet there are still millions and millions of users. Tinder has 7.89 million users and Bumble has 5.03 million users. The way our brains cling on to certain apps like Tinder have real psychological effects on our brain. When we swipe, our brains release dopamine. Especially because of the pandemic, we craved that real human affection more than ever. With these cravings developed, we are even in the period where there has been a new phobia developed about being away from your phone. “Most of us depend on our devices for information and connection, so it’s normal to worry about losing them” (source). While obviously this is general, I think people have gotten afraid of being away from these dating apps. The potential of love brings us back in.
In 2021, dating apps are the new normal. While it’s obvious that there are problems here, these apps are going nowhere. People also use other social media to try and find partners, by DMing other people they find interesting. While our love has potentially been commodified, there is no way to go back now. Happy swiping!