“Hooking up in the digital age” hits home

Dating moves to mobile.
HBOs "Swiped: Hooking up in the digital age" paints a grim picture.
HBO’s Swiped: Hooking Up In The Digital Age shows how dating has become a game

Written and produced by Nancy Jo Sales, Swiped: Hooking Up In The Digital Age explores all facets of what it is like to date in the millennial age. It is timely. It airs at a time when the same number of dating apps users who are looking for a serious relationship (80%) matches the amount of  users who have never found a long-term connection on any dating app (81%).

Poetically illustrating that the solution may very well be the problem, Swiped follows a diverse group of young people between the ages of 18-29 in four U.S. cities as they try to navigate their pursuit of romance in conjunction with their sexual needs. Opening in Austin, Texas at a backyard summer party, a mix of males and females, heterosexual and homosexual, candidly discuss how they use social media for its sexual benefits. One male notes it’s as simple as “You want to suck my dick? Come over.” One female nonchalantly says she is “in a committed relationship with a man I really really love.” But then she admits she secretly uses Snapchat to share explicit photographs with “the boys you’re not supposed to.” All of this because her boyfriend does the same thing with females on Instagram.

One young man admits he joined Grindr at 14

A variety of young adults then recount when they were introduced to the digital space. Some received their first phone in 8th grade. They used AIM to masturbate with other users in junior high. Others joined Grindr as young as 14, by lying about their age in an effort to explore. One male participant misses the comfort that came with telephone communications. “I do remember when you used to call, like 7th / 8th grade, and you would shoot the shit, then hang up and feel that warm fuzzy feeling. That doesn’t happen anymore he says. If you call someone these days you would probably get labeled a psychopath.” At a bustling nightlife spot that is very crowded, nearly everyone is head-down on their phones — even if they are with a large group.

David Buss, Evolutionary Psychologist at University of Texas – Austin, theorizes, “We evolved in the context of small group living with limited geographical mobility. You would have only encountered perhaps a few dozen potential mates in your entire lifetime. [Now] we have thousands of potential mates. We can keep swiping through. This triggers this short-term mating psychology that would have never been triggered ancestrally.”

Physical appearance has also taken on a disproportionately large role with apps like Tinder. It currently is making more money than any other app. In fact, Mark Zuckerberg was obsessed with making a living off image and insecurity. As Swiped reminds us, 2003’s Facemash, Facebook’s predecessor and essentially Tinder’s rough draft, acted as a “who is hotter” website. Then, fast forward to 2012. Tinder was rolled out strategically across college campuses by persuading sororities to join in unison. Then using that bait, they got  fraternities to sign on.

Tinder recently hired its first female CEO, Mandy Ginsberg

The cameras venture inside the tight-sealed Tinder headquarters. The staff is plagued predominantly by men who are all one foot out the door of the millennial age bracket. Ironic, considering Tinder recently hired its first female CEO, Mandy Ginsberg. We learn she is doing no favors where minorities are concerned, alluding to her hiring being due to the #MeToo movement. When asked if Tinder warns users of the dangers that come with dating apps (reports of rape linked to online dating have risen 450% in five years) Ginsberg merely references a vague set of safety tips the apps provide. Then, when asked about the rise of sexual violence and if dating apps are contributing to rape culture, Ginsberg becomes visibly agitated. She arrogantly references the fact that “1 in 2 people have a profile on a dating app today. What happens in society happens on the apps as well.” This illustraties just how out of touch with reality Tinder is.The situation does not improve as you move higher up the hierarchy. Tinder Co-Founder and CSO Jonathan Badeen spouts “the ethical implications of what we are doing are always weighing upon us. Everything from bullying to inappropriate behavior.” Yet, when asked if he has ever heard of anybody who has ever had something bad happen, Badeen fakes naivety, “Directly I have not. There have certainly been a few stories that have occurred, but I don’t know any specifically.” Tons of headlines are then shown from USA Today to The Guardian to the Daily News. They all detail a rising incidence of Tinder dates that turned fatal.

In Plainfield, Illinois, a racially diverse group of friends discuss the struggles they face dating in the rural region they reside. Bree describes being “boy crazy but all of them were intimidated by me.” And that gave birth to her social media dating obsession. Bianca, who is African American like Bree, relents “either they don’t want to fuck with you cause you’re black, or you are ‘so exotic’ because you are black.”

Young people are afraid of commitment today

Later in a larger group setting consisting of Bree’s entire social circle, plus her her mother, they discuss the commonality of a “situationship.” That is when “people are together, they are exclusively sleeping with each other and acting like they are dating each other, but they do not identify as boyfriend/girlfriend.” The mother points out how that is essentially a relationship. They are baffled by the fear of commitment today.

Moving on to Santa Cruz, California, we then meet Vin. She is a female who identifies as non-binary. She feels more trans than anything, and recounts the difficulty she has finding love. She discusses the gender-conforming mindset present on today’s apps, “Hookup sex is bad. For me personally, there has to be more intimacy, there has to be this connection. You don’t get that when you talk on Tinder for a day. I think a lot of people go into these situations feeling obligated to have sex.”

Some on the apps even in person don’t show their face. And they don’t want to know any names

When Swiped finally makes its way to New York City we learn that even in regions where you would expect progression — especially when it comes to relationships — the social media curse is actually at an all-time high. At Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Bar, we are introduced to an outgoing group of gay friends. Austin started to notice the dramatic difference in the gay nightlife circuit over the course of several years. He would go out only to have all of his friends mystified by their phones and looking for a hookup. They were paying no attention to the other men in the bar looking for the same, “Grindr started to change the gay clubs because we would be there yet half of the people would just be looking at their phones.” Dylan can’t agree enough, he has more luck woofing at the guy he sees at the bar as opposed to initiating any conversation first. “Then there are people on Grindr who are anon, they don’t show their face. They don’t want to know a name, you’ll get messages reading “You can walk in, I’ll be blindfolded on all fours, just fuck me and leave.” The conversation between the crew acts as a form of group therapy. Each friend begins to admit their new somber attitude towards the dating apps, “I think Grindr is the new way of hiding,” says TJ, who brings up the emergence of gays shaming their own culture. “People are all, why would you want to cruise? Well cruising is hot, it is fun, it is part of our history, it is part of our culture,” says Remy. He is shocked that fellow gays are starting to disassociate from activities which are part of gay history and culture.

The millennial group of gays point out the irony. The self-righteous gays who are beginning to stigmatize their friends who use Grindr yet when they go home they are doing the same thing. They note the increase in “straight” men making their way to the app and trying to take command, “Men now label themselves as straight. They just put a headless torso and go “I’m on the dl,” but really are you if you are on this app?” questions Hector.

The struggle is just as real for the lesbian dating scene. New Yorker Alana says, “I cannot tell you how many times I have been on dates with girls who are on their cell phone the entire time. I was on a date with this girl who was talking to this dude she was stringing along. I’ve met girls who are so involved with how they look on the internet; they worry about more internet shit more than real life.” The dysfunction of the LGBT dating lifestyle is amusing too. It is more stable than the current heterosexual dating scene.

You begin to understand why the heterosexual divorce rate has been over 50% for so long

Swiped introduces Kyle (male) and Alex (female). Kyle was sleeping with five women a week until he met Alex. She did not oblige to his demand to bring in third parties, despite how visibly uncomfortable she appeared when he boastfully discusses the topic. “If you look at our previous generation, you meet your high school sweetheart, and that is the only person you are with. That type of monogamy is super scary. It can go on for 60 years in a vanilla type of existence. It is super bland. Then you die.” You begin to understand why the heterosexual divorce rate has been over 50% for so long. Yet marriage equality was so difficult to achieve.

We get a first-hand glimpse into the double standard mantra Kyle spouts at his girlfriend. She is cooking with her head faced down seemingly fighting back tears, as he smacks her bottom every time she bends over. They are discussing the problems of generations past, whilst exhibiting stereotypical behavior of generations past.

Experts note the correlation between the increase in antisocial behavior and social dating platforms. “The dating apps, how they play into sexual compulsive behavior and sex addiction, is the accessibility of so many partners at any given moment” describes Puja Hall, Founder and Director of the New York Center for Sexuality & Sex. Adam Alter, Social Psychologist with New York University, firmly believes it all comes down to big business playing us through gamification by turning an experience that is not a game into a game. “Giving dating all the elements of a game; Many of the apps we use now have elements of that built in.” Tinder Co-Founder, Jonathan Badeen, takes pleasure in boastfully agreeing to the cameras. He cities the variable ratio and intermittent reward schedule where having unpredictable, yet frequent, rewards as the best way to motivate someone to keep moving forward.

“Revenge porn” is definitely at the bottom of the priority list at the apps

When is a line finally crossed? If Tinder’s own CEO gets flustered when questioned about the dramatic rise of sexual assault in conjunction with these apps, and if the app’s own CEO brags about profiting off the demoralization of monogamy, then revenge porn is definitely at the bottom of the priority list.

One thing the participants all agree on is that the glamorized porn industry has been the last nail in the coffin for romance. They all cite the desire for one-night-stands to recreate pornographic scenarios, yet when everyone is afraid of establishing a relationship, it makes it difficult to simply achieve quality sex. “There are guys my age suffering from erectile disfunction because when they do have a sexual relationship they can’t be aroused. The mind is so skewed by porn,” says Jack.

We get to know another New Yorker, Nicole. She describes having gone on multiple dates with a man she never slept with, which did not go over well. The man eventually went to great lengths to retaliate by gathering a 10-year history of Nicole’s worst photographs off social media and authoring a character assassination blog. This is when Nicole, as with other participants realized that the apps they built their lives around are nothing more than a business. The domain host, Instagram, Facebook and the dating app never got back to her. The latter only advised her to call the police, who refused to do anything, “Today you have officers who are great at street crime. It is what they know well. But when you come to them with a problem of having to investigate online footprints, they just feel outpaced by the technology” describes Danielle Citron, Professor of Law at University of Maryland.

In what is one of the most groundbreaking documentaries of the past decade, Swiped ornately sheds light on how IAC (InterActiveCorp) has monopolized dating in the 21st century. It is amazing that its CEOs and Co-Founders participated in this documentary. IAC owns Match.com, Chemistry.com, Tinder, Plenty Of Fish, Chispa, Black People Meet, Ok Cupid, Senior People Meet and an excess of subsequent platforms.

The most risible segment is when Whitney Wolfe Herd, Founder and CEO of Bumble, attempts to sell Bumble as the answer to Tinder’s “broken system.” He plays sexes off against one another through ensuring only women can make the first move. Two New York females, Ariel using Tinder and Christie using Bumble, show in separate segments that they receive nearly the same sexually aggressive interactions. It is not much of a surprise once viewers learn Herd is also a Co-Founder of Tinder.

The market has truly been cornered. IAC is the new Big Brother, however, the technology-obsessed generations do not realize this. They do not take it seriously, as opposed to a cheap shot at ageism as in attempts past, until they are Swiped. Swiped: Hooking Up In The Digital Age is on HBO and is available on HBO On Demand, HBO NOW, HBO GO and partners’ streaming platforms.