Swipe right for human connection

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by Carla Leal

Former Tinder CEO, Sean Rad, told the Fast Company in 2013 that the platform’s main function is emulating real life situations and human behaviour.

For example, going to a bar or a club where you know you’re bound to find other singles, making snap judgments about their  physical appearance, and then evaluating your willingness to carry out an interaction with them. But the platform isn’t just emulating these experiences, it’s facilitating them. We can learn from what makes us feel so empowered about that and use it to create our own experiences. Ones that aren’t designed to become so addictive.

There’s a part of us that is yearning to have sincere and authentic relationships with others.

Mobile apps like Tinder offer a way to pursue that desire at the touch of our finger tips. So while we can discuss the gamification, constant connectivity and external validation that Tinder provides, we can’t ignore that it’s helping society fulfill a very important evolutionary need.

So first, let’s talk about what it means to develop sincere relationships with others and the scientific reason that many of us find that so important. Developing sincere relationships with others means being able to express your perceptions and emotions with another person with the goal of being understood. We know ourselves more intimately than we know anyone else.

As a result, it’s hard to imagine anyone else understanding (much less sharing) our deepest thoughts and emotions. That’s why we foster compassionate relationships: we can reconcile with ourselves that we “deserve” a spot in society. “Deserving” a spot in our society is an evolutionary need that is designed to help us survive and be successful as a species. This is why we have neural networks to feel social pain and pleasure, predict other people’s reactions, and connect with cultural beliefs and values.

I believe that fostering sincere relationships like the one that I’ve described are best suited to fulfill our need for human connection. Why? Because when we feel that pain or pleasure, we can communicate it honestly and not fear being “left on read”. When we try to predict each other’s reactions or emotions, it’s listening to the other person’s wants and needs, not their bio. In sincere relationships we strive to know each other’s values, not their “anthem” from Spotify.

Of course these neural networks light up when we use dating apps. In fact, it’s so successful at feeding into our primal instincts that they can become quite addictive. But we only have so much mental energy in our day. Using it to get superficial highs from superficial connections seems like a waste. Rad was right in that they’re emulating real life human behaviour. In doing so and accumulating over 50 million active users per month, they’ve demonstrated that we as a society place high value on human connection and all that it entails. If we know that this is such a huge part of what drives us as motivations, then let’s put more thought into it than a meaningless swipe.