A few of my friends have been joining the online dating scene recently and so I decided it would be fun to get on the scene and sojourn the space. This is the post about that short trip.

Message One: “Hi :)”

I do believe that our internal social currency is a limited resource. To swipe is easy, to converse is hard, and for some, to text is impossible. Social rules guide us on how to expend this currency effectively. They are implicit but quickly adopted.

Success hinges on a good profile. Good means interesting, means I have a personality in this space. We use photos to signal elements of our personal life: socio-economic status, aesthetics, priorities, pleasures. More so, they signal ideals and perfection. Text, on the other hand, predominantly signals expectations, though also often used to soften an otherwise too perfect profile.

Message Two: “What’re you doing this weekend?

Two profiles swipe right, the tinder receives the match, a private channel is constructed for the pair. Potentiality fills the vacuum. One eventually starts the spark, strangers dispatch messages with anticipation, but more often than not, almost immediately, it’s as if there’s not enough oxygen to breathe. More often than not, the room becomes silent.

The first thing I catch myself doing after a match is to take a second look at the profile. (Okay, drinks expensive coffee, has a cute dog. Wall Street, New York.) I’m looking for affordances, clues of personality and history, common interests and quirks, something to hook a conversation on, a jump pad for affect-making. The necessity of affordance is inherent in spaces designed for intentionality. The online dating space does not foster spontaneity, circumstantiality, and its effects. It is silent, sterile, unmoving. The interlocutors have no choice but to feed off each other. And our supplies are already of little to spare. Eventually, we are bone dry and yet have gained nothing. Even when the interlocutors have left, their presence and history lingers in the space that waits indefinitely.

Message Three: “What are you looking for?”

In face-to-face conversation, to seek out affordances through our interlocutor’s body is part of our everyday social life, essential to us being able engage optimally with others. In the digitally-mediated realm of online dating, all that is stripped away with nothing afforded. Instead, we are left to adopt and be represented by our curated profiles and prepared exhibits. Assuming that the curated profile attempts to convey one’s true self, then its mediation might facilitate the realisation of our potentiality through our conversation. However, we also further alienate our digital alters from our physically-situated self. The medium provides lesser opportunities of ‘slip-ups’ that create opportunities for empathy, solidarity, and commiseration, opportunities to make us appear human. Then, when inevitably, the digital veil is torn, one might be hit with the shock of reality, having only interacted with the perfected virtual front.

Message Four: […]

We might find the online dating experience, and one can even extend this feeling to the whole of virtually mediated interaction, a socially draining procedure, more so than physical ones. After all, in such communication spaces, we are effectively handicapped. Our minds experience a frustration in the lack of the normal affordances in real-life interactions. Conversations are not just verbal, we are always implicitly reading the room, watching the bodies of our interlocutors. All these affordances are lost in the process of digitalisation. Our social faculties are left grasping for straws. We have difficulty perceiving our conversation partners, and greater uncertainty in our mental models. Thus, the activity is anxiety-inducing and a more cognitively and emotionally taxing experience.

Message Five: “Hi (again)”

Knowing this, perhaps we can be more forgiving with each other in our digital channels, knowing that we all are operating our social faculties at less than ideal capacity, knowing that we are all in this together, in this struggle bus that is online dating.