Why online dating tools change the way we see ourselves

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It’s corny, but Tinder enthusiast user Angus Butcher, 25, is quietly confident his latest line will work.

After 20 minutes of mulling it over, he hits send and his potential date receives a new message: ‘Can I tie your shoelace for you? ‘cause I don’t want you falling for anyone else,’ it reads. Moments later, he receives a winky face emoji, and Angus chalks this up as a successful interaction.

‘You are forgiven for being more audacious online, because it’s not real, ’ Angus says. Whether you’re a Tinderella, a Tinderfella, or you just stick to chat and messenger, there’s no doubt the medium of online chat has impacted the way we communicate. But how do the principles that define the way we talk online, and the identity we curate in the digital space, change us in the real world?

Lonely in love

According to Dr Tony Chalkley, Senior Lecturer in Media and Communications at Deakin University, ‘The way we construct identity, how tricky it is to get it right online and how diabolic it is when you get it wrong, particularly impacts on young people.’

Dr Chalkley points out that as online communication becomes normalised, so too does this process of cultivating a mythic version ourselves. This explains the sight of young people seemingly hanging out together, yet all on the phones ignoring their friends in front of them.

Being online becomes a ‘lonely place’, because we’re not having true encounters with others Dr Chalkley explains. Instead, we’re focused solely on maintaining appearances.

Dr Chalkley calls this phenomenon being ‘alone together’. The feedback loop of constantly being online means we rely solely on digital formats for interaction. And so the process of having a large portion of our identity defined by our online selves only increases. ‘What I’m talking about is how we curate identity. And what we see is that the more time young people are spending online doing this, the more lonely they feel,’ he says.

'The way we construct identity, how tricky it is to get it right online and how diabolic it is when you get it wrong, particularly impacts on young people'

Dr Tony Chalkley,
Deakin University

Appily ever after?

But to properly understand the issues at play, Dr. Chalkley says, we need to hear from young people themselves. Angus says that despite its seedy reputation as an app exclusively for one-time hook-ups, the amount of time and effort poured into Tinder, is anything but hasty. ‘Writing online is so sterile. You can think about it for hours and days on end on how to craft the perfect response to a flirtatious message that will elicit the result that you want, which makes me feel so greasy.’

But it’s not just about securing a date, it’s about cultivating yourself as an interesting person, explains Angus. Both to attract a mate, and to help you feel like you’re above those who knock you back. ‘ You give off the perfect vibe of attractive, intelligent but with a humorous side.’

‘When you present yourself online you only choose the best you have to offer, there’s nothing candid about it,’ he says.

*Angus says that while he ultimately enjoyed tinder for the thrill, he met his current partner simply by hanging out with mates at a house party, where he wasn’t glued to his phone.

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Dr Tony Chalkley
Dr Tony Chalkley

Senior Lecturer In Media & Communication, Deakin University
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