Attractors in the dating industry

We could approach dating as the problem of whittling down seven billion people to one we want to partner with. The rise of technology has produced new ways of finding this person – from swiping and ‘liking’ to artificial intelligence algorithms capable of matching based on similarities. In this posts I’m going to apply ideas from the Cynefin framework to the ‘complex adaptive dating system’. I want to show that trends which are good for the industry may not be so good for the individual user.
Enter: swiping

In 2012 Tinder brought us a new way to find a match. Simply swipe right if you’re interested in a person’s profile. It turns out that swipers aren’t just here to find dates though. There have been several recent studies which show that the most common reason people use dating apps is simply to pass the time. In fact, the average millennial admits to spending over an hour a day on them!

Unfortunately, a method which works for one person may not work so well for the next. This is because any system which involves people is complex. It is not possible to transition to a beneficial state within a complex system through analysis alone. This would be like deciding to marry someone after only reading a detailed summary of that person.

Instead, Snowden teaches us that we must ‘manage the emergence of beneficial coherence within attractors and boundaries’. What does this mean? In a complex system an attractor is the behavioural pattern triggered by a catalyst. From the point of view of the dating industry, we could say that Tinder has been a catalyst triggering the behaviour of continuous swiping and this swiping is certainly beneficial to the dating industry.

So swiping is a good thing, right?

The longer a user spends talking to matches, the more precious data the service is able to scoop up. This makes it easier to provide targeted advertising and when ‘premium’ features are made available for a cash price, or the option to pay to remove advertising is offered, profits start to roll in. Most dating apps now have some form of swiping feature available and Tinder alone boasts a huge 1.6 billion swipes a day. We can say that the behaviour of swiping has been amplified since 2012 to further benefit the dating industry.

The story is not so happy for the users looking for a partner. While swiping lots means you’re more likely to make matches, having many conversations over a short period is difficult to manage. Humans are limited in the number of relationships we can hold within a certain context (see Dunbar’s number). Combining this with the limited time that is spent on dating apps means the conversation length for each match is on average very short. This again benefits the dating industry as users may perceive the short conversation as a poor match and go back to swiping!

Why not just swipe less?

Although we may start out dating with the intention of finding a partner, the habit of swiping requires less energy. It is very easy for us to swipe profiles and put our lack of progress down to getting poor matches. It’s much harder to have a meaningful conversation or even, gasp, meet someone in real life. Not only that, as attractors are stable states within a complex system, they require high amounts of energy to break free. Once we have fallen into the habit of swiping, it’s hard to get back out of it.

I believe that in order to make more progress in the dating industry we need methods for reducing the energy required to meet like-minded people. First is one such app that is based on the premise of meeting people in real-life with no swiping involved*. While it hasn’t been hugely successful yet, I think this trend will continue to other apps in the future.

Although this post may have negative tones, I fully believe that technology is helping people to find partners in new and interesting ways. New apps are always popping up and I believe that the more diverse the set of apps is, the more people with their different passions, interests and peculiarities are going to be able to benefit from this kind of dating.

What would I like you to take away from this post? Consider whether you have fallen into the swiping attractor and if this is having a negative effect on your dating experience or on other people’s. Be aware that dating is a lucrative industry and profit doesn’t always favour the user.

*please note that I am not affiliated with any product in this post and that my opinions are my own.

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