Ever since Tinder first appeared in the App Store, people have been mourning the death of romance. The antiquated ritual of meeting a prospective partner while off your face at the club has been replaced with something that, we're told, is inherently sadder—flicking through an endless stream of profile pictures while lying in bed at 10 PM on a weeknight.
Social researchers have been concerned by the impact of technology on human relationships for some time. In his book Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds, Polish sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that computers are killing our ability to feel, and that online dating has turned modern love into a destructive computer game.
But it's not only grumpy old academics who think sex apps signal our social demise. We're also prone to shaming ourselves. "We can tell everyone we met in a bookshop," lonely men write on their Tinder profiles, apparently embarrassed that they're trying to find love online.
Be ashamed no more, horny dudes of the internet. New research published this month by the University of Sydney's Dr. Mitchell Hobbs directly addresses Bauman's argument that online dating is destroying modern love. In it, he contends this outlook is overly pessimistic. Speaking to me, Dr. Hobbs explains the digital revolution has actually improved our experiences of sex, love, and intimacy.
"Commencing the study, I actually thought that the data would confirm relationships are less solid in contemporary period," he says. "Prevailing sociological theory has been saying that in a time of rapid social change and increased emphasis on individualization, we're reluctant to enter into lifelong long-term partnerships."
However, the 366 participants in his study—all of whom were active users of apps like Tinder—indicated otherwise. "What we found is that people were saying the opposite," Hobbs explains. "Actually, the vast majority were saying they value the idea of monogamy and long-term partnerships. Seventy-two percent of our participants were just as inclined to be monogamous while using the app."
Not only does Hobbs's research refute the common understanding of online dating and sex apps as slightly depraved and sad, but it also shows how these technologies are actually helping us find love more effectively than we've ever been able to before.
"Eighty-seven percent of people told us they had more opportunities to pursue partners as a result of this technology," he says. "About 66 percent said that it gave them greater agency and control over romantic and sexual encounters. It's clearly a good thing."
As Hobbs explains, sex apps are simply a better version of dating mechanisms that have existed for decades. "Think the lonely hearts classifieds section of the paper, and then video dating in the 1980s," he says. This research helps prove something that we should have known all along—sex has always been a game, apps just make the rules a lot more clear.
Online mediums, it turns out, are surprisingly effective in fostering connections IRL. People who are actually seeking love on apps like Tinder or sites like OkCupid will have a much easier time than those who are trying to find the perfect partner by hanging out in public spaces, "accidentally" dropping something on the ground and hoping a handsome suitor arrives to help them pick it up, or however people meet on sitcoms and B-grade romantic comedies.
Of course, anyone who's used Tinder to try and find real, lasting love will complain about the app's inherent sleaziness. Hobbs says that's a fair complaint, but sleaziness isn't the fault of the technology itself. Humans have been looking for no-strings-attached sex since the dawn of time.
"The meaning and usage of this technology is determined by the values of the users themselves," he says. "If an app gathers a reputation for just being for hook ups, that might dissuade people from giving it a go. That could change the culture and ultimately drive people away from the platform—but the relationship crowd could move perhaps other, more friendly apps like Bumble."
However you feel about sex apps, let's acknowledge that the cute "how we met story" is mostly a myth. What are the chances of sitting next to your future partner on a plane flight, or starting up a conversation in a bookshop when you both reach for the Penguin Classic? Slim to none, my friend. What are the chances of finding someone who shares your interests on a dating app that uses an algorithm to specifically seek out people who are into the same weird stuff as you? Significantly higher.
Maybe the children of the future won't be quite as enticed by the stories of how their parents met as we once were, but that's a small sacrifice. This is the best time in history to be a lonely person in their 20s. Swipe away.
Follow Kat Gillespie on Twitter.