Page 99 of my dissertation is part of my methodology section and connects testing research moments to the topic at hand: the use of the dating application Tinder in Cape Town (South Africa). I recruited participants via the app itself and Page 99 is the build-up to a turning point that had me reconsidering what it means to relate via the app – whether it is with potential dates or research participants. It describes how I had initially embraced the idea of Tinder as a tool which I could use to impose myself less upon potential people, at least as compared to more traditional approaches. Rather than approaching people physically and selling my research, they could look at my research profile describing my intentions and showing a couple of pictures of me and decide whether they were really interested in an engagement.
However, I found myself confronted with two challenges. One of them was that the profile triggered much more interest than I had anticipated, forcing me to think about selection criteria. An abundance of interest to participate in an ethnographic study was not something I had previously encountered (I was used to a slow build-up of connections) and I had assumed more hesitance, especially given the occasionally surfacing swindler scandals linked to Tinder. The page in question describes how I felt accelerated but, at the same time, overwhelmed just looking at the list of ‘options’. I wrote:
Tinder does not only create the illusion of an unlimited number of possible connections (given the ‘right’ settings, appearances, and investments), but matches also carry the promise of a certain kind of experience, namely one that is inherently intimate. The idea of being ethnographically intimate with a variety of people and being able to create these experiences made me feel excited and numb, powerful, and paralysed at the same time.
But before I could figure out how to deal with this challenge, something else happened: I was indefinitely blocked from Tinder. After eight email exchanges, I still did not have an explanation as to why and was merely told to look at the community guidelines, which left me just as clueless. The experience made me ponder my premise that approaching people online was somehow less intrusive. While it is quite likely that I was banned not because of user complaints but by Tinder’s content regulators, I was still left wondering how my presence on the app had been perceived by those who had swiped left (not interested) on my profile. It also made me think about the enticing acceleration that the idea of ethnographic intimacy with a variety of people had triggered in me, mirroring the addictive swipe logic that is meant to keep users going from profile to profile rather than meaningfully engaging with their matches. The challenging-but-persistent search for meaningful experiences on Tinder is grappled with in the remainder of the dissertation.
Leah Junck. 2021. Down the Rabbit Hole: An Ethnography on Loving, Desiring and Tindering in Cape Town. University of Capetown, Phd.