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Tinder for Tortoises

August 11, 2015


Tortiose 2

I’ve just read an article in Vanity Fair about how eagerly New York’s young professionals are embracing Tinder, and thereby each other.

It seems that in the cities of America the evening entertainment of choice for marketing executives, investment bankers, interns and students is to hang out in bars, meet up with someone they’ve never met before and have sex with them. Not occasionally, but several times a week, and sometimes more than once a night. Each time a different person.

No article on a social phenomenon would be complete without an expert being wheeled out to pontificate on its significance, and sure enough, Nancy Jo Sales, the author of the piece, duly obliges:

As the polar ice caps melt and the earth churns through the Sixth Extinction, another unprecedented phenomenon is taking place, in the realm of sex. Hookup culture, which has been percolating for about a hundred years, has collided with dating apps, which have acted like a wayward meteor on the now dinosaur-like rituals of courtship. “We are in uncharted territory” when it comes to Tinder et al., says Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. “There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years,” he says. “The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.”

To which my immediate reaction was yeah, yeah. As someone who grew up in the sixties and seventies, who witnessed the so-called sexual revolution and watched while extracts from the poppy, the coca leaf and marijuana plant went from being the recreation choice of a few to challenging alcohol as a mainstream social lubricant, I’d put it another way.

One of the major impacts of the internet on society, whether on sexual relations or any other social activity, is in the way it reduces the time needed for cults, fads and fashions to take root, develop and go mainstream internationally, as opposed to locally. Hence the growth of ISIS, and, dare I say it, the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK from the far-left margins of the Labour Party to frontrunner in the forthcoming leadership election.

To borrow Malcolm Gladwell’s terminology, it massively accelerates the tipping point.

But to suggest that all around the world, from Hyderabad to Omsk to Alice Springs, it will be “normal” in the near future for people hook up with each other in bars or bazaars and disappear for evenings of no-strings fornication is as much a delusion as the idea that listening to a Grateful Dead album on a scratchy gramophone in a smoke-filled room would usher a new era of world peace.

That said, it’s easy for followers of cults to believe that they’re on the cutting edge of something that will change the world. And exciting too. But the flipside of the internet as an accelerator is how quickly the wildfire cults it facilitates degenerate, and if they don’t fade away, mutate. Facebook is no longer “our thing”, for example. It’s everybody’s thing. Likewise Twitter. And so, eventually, will go dating apps like Tinder. Corporate imperatives – the compulsion to grow revenue and profit on an ever-upwards line – will take care of that.

I find it interesting that the growth of Tinder coincides with the nannying of sexual relations on university campuses. Several of the people interviewed in the Vanity Fair article were female students. So when they go out for their nightly doses of sex with strangers, do they ask the objects of their desire to sign a contract of consent? I very much doubt it. Just a reminder that sexual politics in America are as torturous and fractured as they ever were.

The students and young professionals busy coupling away all over America, Britain and other western societies won’t want to be reminded that that youth is not eternal. Sooner or later they’ll be bored and sated by an endless stream of meaningless encounters, just as most of us oldies got bored with hanging around in the kitchen at parties waiting more in hope than expectation for the next girlfriend, and getting wasted as the next best thing. Most of us moved on when we finally twigged that actually it’s difficult to achieve much the day after if your brain is still enjoying the effects of a night with weed or Newcastle Brown.

And sooner or later, like us, they’ll come to realise that the narcissistic bubble of hedonism in which they do what they do is little more than that. They’ll see that they were just a bunch of kids indulging in an opportunity that was denied to their parents. And if and when they become parents, they’ll reflect on the influence of pornography on their sexual behaviour and expectations, just as we used to reflect on the influence of drugs. They’ll not want their kids to conform to the values imposed on them by those who make and sell porn, just as we worried about our kids permanently altering their brains with the evil stuff that made billionaires in Colombia, China and Chicago.

Hopefully they’ll also understand that they were duped, just as we were duped, and that the only way to help their kids not to be duped is to raise them to think for themselves, not to judge, ban and disapprove. To educate rather than indoctrinate.

When I think about those kids in New York, it’s with no sense of disapproval, and certainly not envy. Each generation – or, in the age of the internet, sub-generation – takes its pleasure, excitement and risks in different ways. And in regard to sex, what is easy to come by is devalued. Relationships are still difficult, though potentially more rewarding. That much has not changed.

So no need for agonising, political and religious point-scoring, or for prohibition. No need for sex tsars. If you feel the need to regulate, ban and punish, there are many parts of the world you can go to where you will meet that need. Syria, for example. And remember that the Tinder generation is but a tiny slice of society, the result of a vertical and horizontal cut that hives off a few million out of billions. It’s not that much of a big deal.

What’s more interesting to me is how the dating apps will mutate so that older generations can get involved. Not for instant sex, you understand, though there may well be plenty of oldies who might find that of interest, judging by the very significant increase in sexually-transmitted diseases among the over-fifties during the last decade.

Just as Facebook has become the application of choice for families and distant friends as much as for preening youngsters, perhaps a variant of Tinder can transform the lives of the ageing lonely. Anyone fancy a game of dominoes? I have a spare ticket to a concert – anyone interested? I’m off to the coast for the day – anyone fancy a lift? I’m sitting at home with an injured knee – anyone fancy a cup of tea?

I should have thought that there are far more internet-enabled lonely people of a certain age out there with money to spend and nobody to spend it with than there twentysomethings who want to hang out in bars waiting for the next hook-up. Surely a commercial opportunity for some bright app developer.

Now there’s a thought – Tinder for Tortoises….

From → Business, Social, UK, USA

  1. Abdullah j Wallace permalink

    Easy on the Grateful Dead, old friend!

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