The Dating Game 2.0.
If you've heard a lot about dating apps, but are not quite sure how they work, or why anyone would use them, there was an insightful recent article in the NY Times that explains the most popular app, Tinder, comparing it to other, more established web dating applications, such as Match.com.
Essentially, once a user signs up and includes a few pictures (generally from your Facebook archives), the mobile app finds other registered users and presents your photo to them, and likewise, you see photos of those around you. You swipe one direction to indicate interest and the other direction to suggest you're interested in meeting someone. Then--and only then--can they message you. Basically, two mutually interested parties are able to make contact by text, followed by face-to-face contact if both are still keen after the text exchange.
The author, Molly Wood (her real name?) admits that while this approach, based mostly on physical looks, seems a bit superficial at least and 'sleazy' at worst, it is also the appeal of the application, namely its easy-to-use simplicity and unpretentious nature. It also feels like a game, where you decline others' advances by saying 'still playing,' which says this is not necessarily a search for a life partner (although the author admits being in a promising relationship that started with Tinder).
The comparison with match-making sites is that Tinder is not trying to play matchmaker, it is just helping you play the field, with the advantage of knowing who else is playing on the same field.
But why is there an overall surge in dating apps? Functionalist sociologists and animal behiorists will tell you that dating rituals are necessary and important to help individuals let down their guard enough for would-be suitors to become intimate enough to mate. Not very romantic, but it does help us understand the role that dating apps serve in connected and busy societies.
Dating apps reduce at least some of the anxiety of approaching strangers who are not interested in us personally, or not interested in dating in general. By letting us contact the 'maybe' persons around us, the odds of carrying on a conversation over a drink go up substantially. Plus, by making it look and feel like a game, it perhaps bring a playfulness to first encounters, which is both fitting and helpful, in most cases.
For those of us with soul mates and those still looking, Happy Valentines Day!