A Post About Buzzfeed and Tinder? Just, Ew, No. Moving On
September 12, 2014 8:24 AM   Subscribe

A Buzzfeed writer exercises her semiotics and gathers a bunch of stock photos to recreate Tinder, the quick glance social dating app, to find out why we swipe.

Suppose you’re a straight woman thumbing through Tinder while waiting for the train, avoiding your homework, or bored at work. A picture of a deeply bronzed man pops up in your stream. How do you swipe? More interestingly, if someone asked you to explain why, how would you answer?

You'd probably answer, "not my type," to be polite. But what you really mean is, "that individual signifies as outside my class."

Previously, sorta.
posted by notyou (47 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
I contributed to this! Although I found my reaction was a lot different if I assumed it was a man looking for another man, cause then being seen in full hunting gear is different.


although a shockingly large number of my responses where "guys that look like that don't go out with guys that look like me."
posted by The Whelk at 8:31 AM on September 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


From an informal survey of my friends - the girls don't use the app much, the guys hit yes to everyone without even looking at the photos. This obviously seems like the sensible way to use tinder - your "yes/no) action has no commitment value but a time value - you are better off just accepting everyone and seeing who hits you back
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 8:32 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Poor Junior!

This is a really interesting article, though I think the limited (and seemingly quite ideologically homogenous) sample group means it only tells you much about a rather specific group of people.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:40 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Oh, hey, I contributed to this too.

Although I kept wondering if I'd be skewing the data because a lot of my "no" swipes were "he's way too young" and I always answered the "what religion is this person" question with "how the hell would I know".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


People really put in group photos on their Timbr profiles? I might date one Dave (well, I wouldn't, I'm old and married) but seeing all four Daves there, looming above me, waving their clubs in my direction, is unnerving.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:47 AM on September 12, 2014 [6 favorites]


On second thought I wouldn't date even one Dave, because of the polo shirts and the pleated pants and the golf clubs, even though we're probably of the same class.
posted by The corpse in the library at 8:48 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Although I think I rejected the dude with that tattoo on his back and sitting on a kayak in the middle of a tropical ocean because "he looks like he's trying WAY too hard".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:49 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


This doesn't tell you who is attractive, this tells you who people on Tinder think are attractive. Big difference. Homeboy in the wife beater with the truck in a field would probably get a ton more hits in a Craigslist personals ad. But that's my speculation.
posted by oceanjesse at 8:52 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


although a shockingly large number of my responses where "guys that look like that don't go out with guys that look like me."

OMG I was just coming here to say that Sam, 31 would absolutely be on my list [hel-loooo!] but I can tell from his expression that he would find me boring.

Why yes we do project an awful lot on a static photo, don't we?
posted by psoas at 9:10 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


& the idea that 'Kate' looks "sanctimonious" or 'Crystal' needs her teeth fixed says a hell of a lot more about the respondent than the photo
posted by psoas at 9:13 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I thought the article was really interesting, but it's definitely not representative of the population at large. For one thing, literally every person she quoted in the article was white or asian.

The sample is also way less religious than average - the author says that's b/c of the participant's ages, but I'm willing to bet that more than 23% of American twenty-somethings identify as Christian. (Plus, the sample is 6% Jewish vs 1% nationwide, and it's not like people go through some sort of Jewish phase in their twenties.)
posted by sf2147 at 9:16 AM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


well, yes, these ideas DO say a hell of a lot more about the respondent than the photo... that's kind of the whole point.
posted by palomar at 9:16 AM on September 12, 2014 [11 favorites]



Now I want to download Tinder and do my own experiment on who I would choose and try to figure out why.

Do you have to make a full profile before you look at other peoples?
posted by Jalliah at 9:22 AM on September 12, 2014


I realize the writer probably often didn't contribute the headline but this only takes a few tiny steps in the direction of the "the shameful secret of attraction." I have often had this conversation with people who seem to believe there are physical qualities—fitness, symmetry, whatever—that are innately attractive. The writer seems to start from this point—"you can't argue with your genitals"—and then say this state is affected by certain status markers or hints.

But everything you perceive about other people is a variety of marker, all of them socialized. Most of them become associated with physical or stylistic expressions that can then be identified from, say, a still photograph. But many qualities that often have great influence in the attraction to someone—popularity, say; or standing within a group—do not translate as directly. This isn't a "shameful secret," and it's not just a gloss on an innate tendency to favor a particular three-dimensional shape made out of human. No, it's the whole thing. A wild child on a desert island, I hazard, would be attracted to anybody or perhaps to nobody. Probably not Jessica Alba in particular. Your genitals have no perceptual capacity.
posted by zbsachs at 9:30 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Isn't it a foregone conclusion that when you find a hot person on the internet they're actually some kind of scammer? Was it a mistake to reject all those MSN Messenger invites over the years?
posted by simra at 9:36 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tinder seems to require a Facebook login so it might as well be on Mars for me.
posted by The Whelk at 9:37 AM on September 12, 2014 [4 favorites]



Well that cancels that experiment for me as well. I have a Facebook account, but I only use it look at pictures my sister posts.
posted by Jalliah at 9:39 AM on September 12, 2014


Oh c'mon! Who hasn't gotten drunk and started a long shouting match with their own genitals? Sometimes it even gets into a physical confrontation.
posted by poe at 9:40 AM on September 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


(as far as I can tell the only kinds of these services that don't require a Facebook login in are straight up hookup apps.)
posted by The Whelk at 9:41 AM on September 12, 2014


This is a really interesting article, though I think the limited (and seemingly quite ideologically homogenous) sample group means it only tells you much about a rather specific group of people.

True, but I'd bet you could draw the same conclusions from a different group, whether it were equally ideologically homogeneous, but subscribing to a different ideology, or more ideologically diverse overall.

As far as practical uses, this article is another reminder that I need to make an appointment with the dentist.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 9:47 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]



Okay I installed it anyway with my not used much account. I flipped through 5 guys before shutting it down. This isn't my thing. It made me feel icky and judgey. Also icky that others could judge my pic, which isn't a great one and not one I would put on dating site.

I uninstalled it.

And here ends Jalli's Tinder experiment of 2014
posted by Jalliah at 9:48 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


indeed, some would argue that there's no reason to even explain: You can't argue with your genitals.

Challenge accepted.
posted by dr_dank at 9:53 AM on September 12, 2014 [7 favorites]


Plus, the sample is 6% Jewish vs 1% nationwide, and it's not like people go through some sort of Jewish phase in their twenties.

My brother apparently hit this point early when, at the age of four and having acquired a yarmulke from my father's friend's Passover Seder, he tried to wear it to daycare. My parents thought that this was not appropriate and would be offensive to many people, especially the many Orthodox Jews who lived on our street, leading to a scene in which they had to carry my screaming brother out to the car for daycare while he shrieked "I AM SO! I AM SO JEWISH!"
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 9:54 AM on September 12, 2014 [36 favorites]


The two top picks, male and female, are both model gorgeous. I suspect that has a lot more to do with choices than the author admits. Being really, really, really, good looking tends to make people gloss over the little details like personality.

If you're merely cute, as most of these people are, then realistic assessment kicks in.
posted by fshgrl at 10:30 AM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Lol he’s too old and it looks like the sea is his mistress already I can’t compete with that.
posted by threeants at 11:10 AM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I think there's a lot to be said for class signifiers as a player in attraction, but it's more about a spread on either side of your self-identified class: some folks go 'up' and others tend 'down'. Of course there are trends that imbalance these skews.

What we call class signifiers, though, really is a collection of often-correlated traits so it's not inaccurate to say "we wouldn't have much in common." I like fishing, but I also like sailing, and I don't care for most people who do either. The things people choose to represent themselves say as much as the things we use to inform our decisions about partners.
posted by a halcyon day at 11:36 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I think you're ALL sexable! [FX: confetti]
posted by user92371 at 11:45 AM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


No, it's the whole thing. A wild child on a desert island, I hazard, would be attracted to anybody or perhaps to nobody.

Absolutely a large part of attraction is learned but I would be very surprised if all of it was. I would be interested to know what sort of research has been done about this.

I think there's a lot to be said for class signifiers as a player in attraction, but it's more about a spread on either side of your self-identified class: some folks go 'up' and others tend 'down'. Of course there are trends that imbalance these skews.

Also people keep using the word "attraction" but that's different from "would date/can imagine a long-term relationship with." In my experience people will admit *attraction* way out of their class (or of course some people fetishize certain class markers) but talk about it like it's kind of an embarrassing secret.
posted by atoxyl at 12:33 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I really wish being "cultured" wasn't so heavily classist. And it does suck that a lot of culture is really something that someone is exposed to through formal higher education — it seems like a lot of the efforts from the labor movement to educate their members have fallen by the wayside. I think that's particularly a shame because of how college is assumed to be the default for the class that's responding to these fake Tindr ads, but only about 20 percent of Americans age 25 and up have college degrees.

That's something that I had a lot more hope of changing during the dotcom boom, when it seemed like a lot of autodidacts were able to be successful, and I was hoping that trend would continue. But instead, especially with the financial collapse, it seems like people who couldn't get a college degree just got absolutely shit on.
posted by klangklangston at 1:14 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


One thing I think the piece misses is that online dating != a job interview. Nobody wants to be perceived as "racist", "classist", etc. but at the same time, people want to date people they have things in common with. The goal of dating isn't to avoid discrimination. Obviously it's gauche to openly say, "I don't date outside my race" or "I would never date a Muslim" or whatever, but the bottom line is that, yeah, most people end up with people of their race and/or religion, or at the very least, someone from a culture they're familiar with and who shares their values.

(Spoken as someone who has been in interracial, intercultural, and interfaith relationships for ultimately the bulk of all dating experiences I've ever had. Definitely describing as an observer, and not prescribing at all.)
posted by Sara C. at 1:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Does anybody use Tinder and think "why swipe 'yes' on someone who is way better looking than me"? If I were still dating dudes, I would absolutely have swiped yes for poor old Junior, on the theory that as a fat guy who likes fancy events, he might be someone fun who would also go out with me.

My whole rationale looking at most of those people was "these people are all way better-looking than me and even if I assume that the women are all queer, they're all skinny and femme, and that's not what I go for". Is that not normal people's thought process?
posted by Frowner at 2:06 PM on September 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I mean, show me a muslimah who isn't as beautiful as a model and who maybe has glasses and likes to read and for some reason wants to date an atheist raised Lutheran, and I'm absolutely there.

I feel like this article tries to compress too many variables.
posted by Frowner at 2:08 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Oh man I swipe right on overly hot people all the time. I figure I'll leave the ball in their court to respond to me or not. I lose nothing by upvoting attractive people I'd like to date.

I would have swiped left on "poor Junior", not because of his attractiveness level (he's probably on par with some other people I've dated?), but because he looks boring.

One thing I notice in the sample images is that the names she picked heavily skew the results. Marit gets a ton of upvotes. Junior doesn't do well. Surprise Surprise. I bet if Junior was Javier, people would swipe right.

Also, yes soooooo many variables. I think Yasmin does well mostly because it's a great photograph and she looks very genuine and happy.
posted by Sara C. at 2:22 PM on September 12, 2014


Also, I just pulled up Tinder for the first time in ages, and yeah, I swipe a lot of women left who I don't believe are really into women*/aren't my "type" of lesbian/are probably not the type who'd be into me.

*This is terrible because I'm aware that I 100% read as straight and most lesbians are shocked when I make passes at them.
posted by Sara C. at 3:10 PM on September 12, 2014


I was on a plane not long ago and saw a guy who seemed like a young, good-old-boy businessman using Tinder. He was in the seat ahead and to the left and his phone screen was positioned perfectly for me to see it. I probably should have minded my own business but I was curious to see how the app worked. It was kind of depressing how many women he was rejecting at almost lightning speeds. You'd see this friendly, attractive woman's photo come up and his thumb just ruthlessly come down. I mean the women he was rejecting where good-looking by most standards, but off they went. I was curious if it was just ridiculously high standards on his part or some less obvious trait he was after that he wasn't seeing.
posted by picea at 3:29 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just joined Tinder & have learned that the group photo is definitely a thing; photos with wives/girlfriends are a thing; photos from the nose up only a a thing.

Are the crappy pics because they use Facebook profile pictures? My tinder photo is my current Facebook profile PC, which is a selfie taken lying on my stomach in bed with my 7-year-old on my back, grinning over my shoulder.

Also, part of the appeal seems to be the randomly distributed rewards. I'm now totally hooked on swiping along waiting for that rare person who makes me pause and go, "huh. Maybe."
posted by not that girl at 5:40 PM on September 12, 2014


I just had one that was the generic Facebook guy icon.
posted by not that girl at 5:41 PM on September 12, 2014


I'm in Michigan, so pictures of men holding up fish are quite common.
posted by not that girl at 5:49 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


OMG I got a match.
posted by not that girl at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I really wish being "cultured" wasn't so heavily classist.

I don't think it is, or at least it isn't always and hasn't always been. One of the things that always frustrates me in conversations about class is that inevitably it always gets conflated with culture, knowledge, curiosity, creativity, etc. which just plain isn't true and is probably a classist assumption in itself.

High culture, in the sense of a box at the opera, owning 500 year old paintings, etc? Sure. But the wealthy do not have a monopoly on culture, especially in a time like today when art is so democratic and knowledge is free for the asking.
posted by Sara C. at 6:47 PM on September 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Tell me it was with a giant white egg, not that girl.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:29 PM on September 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


A giant white egg holding a really big fish.
posted by not that girl at 8:12 PM on September 12, 2014


What is wrong with Crystal's teeth? I don't even....
posted by I-Write-Essays at 9:01 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I was surprised that Crystal's teeth were a problem. I was much more concerned with the fact that she looks naked in the picture and is named Crystal, which immediately said "stripper" to me. I try to avoid overtly sexualized profiles in online dating, for various reasons.

Also, again with the names. If the semi-naked 22 year old had been Marit and the more mature and tasteful woman with the high maintenance dye job had been Crystal, I'm pretty sure the results wouldn't have shaken out in the same way.

It's interesting to me that she got her most extreme results with profiles that were the most conventional or stereotypical (white guy named Dave playing golf in WASPy clothes, seemingly promiscuous woman named Crystal), and her most positive results with the photo that most defies classification.

It's almost as if... Tinder profiles are cyphers for us to attach our own meanings to!

Which is basically what her hypothesis boils down to. It's kind of awkward that she then tried so hard to apply an identity politics gloss to it.
posted by Sara C. at 9:21 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


I don't get it.
"crystallize the extrapolation process", "I first noticed this “crystallizing” tendency"
And that's all the author says about crystalization. And its apparently also the key understanding of semiotics.

Seems semiotics is just another buzz word along with,
human psychology: "It’s possible [...] But maybe [...] Essentially, we’re constantly inventing...",
mathematics: "swipes relied upon more a more vague, albeit immediate, calculus"
more psychology: "...thus mimics the relationship...", "... some judgments are too secret — and shameful — to say out loud, or even admit to ourselves."
gamification: "tinkering around on the app ... in a game-like fashion"

Until ultimately,
computer science: "I decided to make my own, somewhat crude simulation."

It reads like a perverse quasi-experiment involving human subjects. If it was just an art piece intended to reveal to the participant the diversity of opinions I would find less fault. Rather, the participants seem to be unwitting fodder for analysis. It wants to be social science, but it comes across as Frankenstein science,

"get at the heart of the subconscious snap judgments"
"possibly destructive cultural divides"
"Here’s the religious breakdown of the simulation participants compared to national statistics from the 2012 Census"
"The discrepancy is fairly easy to explain"

Is this social science porn? Is this the output of a bot, smashing together subjects from science and predicates from some dating chat room feed? That I'd believe.
posted by xtian at 9:24 AM on September 13, 2014


Seems semiotics is just another buzz word

No.

One of the problems with this article is that she's totally correct that online dating relies on its own very precise semiotic universe. If you're posing shirtless next to your truck, I infer X about you. If you mention that your favorite author is Ayn Rand, I infer Y about you. These are all signs we flash at each other that are meant to stand for very complex ideas. (And sometimes those inferences can be positive, if I happen to like libertarian guys who lift.) Just like a red octagon is a sign that stands for STOP.

On the other hand, then she gets into all the stuff where nobody liked Junior because he's maybe Hispanic, as opposed to nobody liked Junior because his photo is the least attractive (and most stereotypable) of all the photographs in the study.
posted by Sara C. at 9:33 AM on September 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


"...we want to be known for social experiments, all that other good stuff.” Meet The Two Brothers Behind The Shocking "Hood Prank" YouTube Videos People Can’t Stop Sharing

He're some more good 'stuff'.
posted by xtian at 10:57 AM on September 13, 2014


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