Opinion

Dating apps for the 'elite' reinforce the worst aspects of human nature

With Tinder Select, you're only connected to those in your supposed social strata — or as it was defined in past eras, the confines of your "class" — which only serves to reinforce our worst impulses to divide, discriminate and segregate.

The app feels like a throwback to high school, where wallflowers had no chance with the popular kids

With Tinder Select, you're only connected to those in your supposed social strata. (CBC)

Chances are, you haven't heard of Tinder Select.

That's because Tinder, famous for putting potential love connections right at its users' fingertips, has been keeping its new, elite service under wraps for the last six months. That is, unless you're in the romantic "one per cent" — a group attractive enough, successful enough and elite enough to get your own velvet rope experience.

But is the exclusive version of the app really a step in the right direction? The original premise of apps like Tinder was that they would open up more options and more potential matches for long term love, a short term fling or anything in between.

Curated list of matches

But with "Select," that's no longer the case; you're no longer connected to anyone who might be a potential match. Instead, you're only connected to those in your supposed social strata — or as it was defined in past eras, the confines of your "class" — which only serves to reinforce our worst impulses to divide, discriminate and segregate. 

Indeed, the app feels like a throwback to high school, where wallflowers had no chance with the popular kids, or to centuries before that — the era of Downton Abbey — where those "downstairs" weren't to mix with those "upstairs."

And if you're not in the one per cent? Well, as the secrecy around Tinder's app for elites proves, you probably aren't even aware of how you've been socially ranked. To become a member, you need to be invited by the company, or nominated by a member.

Companies are scrambling to keep up with consumers whose enthusiasm is waning by branding their apps as "elite." (Source: TechCrunch)

On paper, the premise of Tinder Select makes good enough sense. The hush-hush version of the app, tailored to the dating world's most exclusive bachelors and bachelorettes, promises an increased level of privacy to people who are wary of being overexposed. It theoretically increases the likelihood of love matches by narrowing the net that gets cast, dividing users into tiers based on algorithmic scores. And while Tinder hasn't been exactly forthcoming about the criteria it uses to decide who makes the Select cut, the preference is clearly for those who have that magic blend of affluence, attractiveness and notoriety.

The rise of exclusive apps like Tinder Select is, in a way, part of the natural ebb and flow of digital trends and user behaviours. As mobile dating apps have become the go-to method for meeting and mating, there have come tales of Tinder burnout: the mounting sense of exhaustion that comes from having too much choice. 

VIP experiences

So companies are scrambling to keep up with consumers whose enthusiasm is waning by branding their apps as "elite" options. The League, for example, is an invite-only app that mines LinkedIn data to find the most successful and highly educated eligible members. Raya is an equally exclusive dating app, targeted to celebrities. Even Bumble — a Tinder-like app that first differentiated itself by letting women make the first move — has a VIP experience.

Sure, these apps might make our lives, or choices, easier. But for all of the buzz around this new brand of exclusivity, the latest innovation reinforces some of the worst elements of human nature: to divide ourselves as "us" versus "them," to rank each other's worth by superficial measures.

The internet is, at its best, a serendipity machine, increasing our likelihood of stumbling across exactly what we're looking for, often before we even know we want it.

But at its worst, the same filters that help us find what we we're searching for can all too easily become barriers that blind us to the best of what's around us, or — in the case of Tinder — to who is around us.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ramona Pringle

Technology Columnist

Ramona Pringle is an associate professor in Faculty of Communication and Design and director of the Creative Innovation Studio at Ryerson University. She is a CBC contributor who writes and reports on the relationship between people and technology.

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