Uber meets tinder

It wasn’t until I started reading up on the ‘Sharing Economy’ that I finally figured out what bothered me about dating apps.

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I’ve sầu realised something important about dating apps. They’re sharing economy platforms. It’s a big clalặng, I know — but stick with me here.

According khổng lồ Tom Slee in What’s Yours is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, there are basically four things that define something as a Sharing Economy platform:

they are peer-to-peer platforms that bởi vì not provide a service to lớn over users beyond connecting them,they have sầu in-built rating systems that provide algorithmic regulation,they turn individuals inlớn micro-entrepreneurs, andthey take a non-market phenomenon powered by human relationships & turn them inkhổng lồ a market exchange.

Tinder — & all its copycát apps, including Bumble, Hinge, Happn, OKCupid, and more, meet all four of these criteria. This isn’t a good thing — the sharing economy is basically a repeat of the 1990s dot com bubble, with sliông chồng young techrepreneurs và venture capitalists conspiring lớn overvalue unsustainable công nghệ companies to lớn sell on the open market for unimaginable profits. On the way there, they exploit people, disrupt lives, and change the face of cities for the worse.

I would add that they dissolve human connection và replace it with a ruthless and mercenary market lô ghích and in the process, strip us of our empathy for one another. So why on Earth vì we trust our most intimate decisions to one of these apps? And more importantly, what is it doing khổng lồ us?

A peer-to-peer platsize that does not provide services

In a way this is the most obvious point of commonality between Tinder & Uber. Even if it’s mediated by friends or family, the norm of the couple means dating is always a direct peer-to-peer connection. And it is also obvious that dating apps are platform-only offerings. With a small number of specific exceptions, dating apps don’t curate or manage dates, they only deliver the connection, and leave the rest up khổng lồ the users.

The Sharing Economy heavyweights make the same claim about their business models, usually in the khung of legal claims that their drivers or hosts are not employees. Slee gives examples of Homejoy (domestic cleaning services), Handy (domestic handyman services) and Instacart (trang chủ delivery services) as Sharing Economy platforms that make this distinction to negate employee entitlement claims and abrogate the need to pay their employees properly.

While dating tiện ích users are not concerned with minimum wage, they are still engaging in a dynamic fraught with power. Both Sharing Economy platforms và dating apps involve sầu the intrusion of strangers into people’s domestic lives. When combined with the long history of heterosexual power dynamics and the contractual absolution of the ‘platform’ from any care or regard for their safety, this has chilling results.

There have sầu been a staggering number of assaults và rapes by Uber drivers. AirBnb has had its own rape (và murder) scandals, but also other strange & disquieting crimes that are enabled by the unregulated intrusion of strangers inkhổng lồ apparently private domestic spaces. Perhaps because they dangle the tantalising offer of a no-strings hookup in front of its users, mạng internet dating services produce all sorts of negligent & malicious interpersonal behaviour, & more than their fair giới thiệu of horrible sexual violence.

But the comtháng element here isn’t rape. The comtháng element is the complete disregard by a profit-seeking technology corporation for the welfare of the people using its service, and the denial of any responsibility to lớn those users through the idea that their platkhung is the service, not the kết thúc “product” people seek by engaging in it — a room for the night, a lift, a date.

Algorithmic regulation through a rating system

At first Tinder operated on a simple premise: swipe right for ‘hot’, swipe left for ‘not’. As the number of users grew, problems emerged. Even with a geographical filter that limited potential matches, there were too many people lớn swipe through. There was no way that the app could guarantee that an unrequited swipee could ‘cthua thảm the loop’ by swiping right baông chồng, because there were just too many people in the queue.

An obvious fix was khổng lồ move the swiper higher up in the swipee’s queue lớn minimise the time between a one-sided swipe và a match. That didn’t account for the second problem: the breakdown of the ‘matching hypothesis’, which claims that people date around their own cấp độ of desirability. On the Apps, for whatever reason, people tended khổng lồ ‘swipe up’, hoping lớn match with people significantly more desirable than themselves. This has consequences for the utility of the tiện ích.

Enter what Slee calls “algorithmic regulation”, a key component of Sharing Economy platforms. In November năm nhâm thìn, Austin Carr reported in Fast Company that Tinder had shifted to an Elo score to rank users’ desirability. Although Tinder was tight-lipped on exactly how the system worked, Carr surmised that your ranking went up when users’ right swipes were reciprocated & dropped with a large number of unreciprocated swipes. As a user’s Elo score settled (the system needs at least 50 ‘matches’ lớn start working), the ứng dụng began to lớn match users according khổng lồ Elo score.

Slee points out that on most Sharing Economy platforms, ratings conkhung the ‘j-curve’, which means that ratings tover to cluster at the top và bottom of the five-point scale. There are vanishingly small numbers of 2 or 3 ratings, a tiny proportion of 4 ratings, và a huge number of 5s & 1s. In practise there is very little difference between a 5-point scale where everyone only rates people 5 or 1, & a binary hot/not scale.

But ratings serve a different function on Tinder & Uber. There’s no public aspect to Tinder ratings, while other Sharing Economy platforms maintain public ratings as a khung of regulation. Even when rating systems are present they don’t seem lớn vị anything useful. Slee points out that an Uber rating is most likely based on politeness and cleanliness — the products of emotional labour — rather than whether the brakes on the oto have sầu been well maintained or the driver has a history of sexual assault.

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He argues that communities manage trust và reputation through the intersubjective sầu ties that constitute them, giving the example of a hypothetical plumber whose reputation spreads by word of mouth. Being able to lớn tell your friover not lớn hire someone — or date someone — because they were good on paper but in person something was ‘off’ is a valuable subjective insight that an algorithm cannot reproduce.

The algorithms at the regulatory heart of the Sharing Economy are terrible replacements for community. Algorithmic rating systems condense a complex subjective process inkhổng lồ a simple, unaccountable yes/no. The problem is, you can’t distil ‘red flags’ to lớn a 0 or 1. When those ratings aren’t even public, their already minimal regulatory capađô thị dwindles to nothing.

Micro-entrepreneurs

Tinder ratings & the algorithms they drive are based on the entrepreneurial investment users make into what might be thought of as their ‘dating capital’. A Tinder profile is based on a few photos & a line or two of text, but the difference between a good profile and an average one is how much work goes inlớn those elements. This work is understood as effort towards making the self more attractive sầu và appealing, khổng lồ maximise likes, followers, and — on dating apps — right swipes.

This bears an eerie resemblance to lớn the theory of Human Capital, which for Bruce Pietrykowski involves people thinking about themselves “an investor seeking khổng lồ maximise the rate of return on their asset. And they are the asset”. Nikolas Rose và Peter Miller specify that by thinking about ourselves this way, we are “solicited as allies of economic success” through investment in the “management, presentation, promotion and enhancement” of our own capital.

There is a genre of Instagram post in which ‘models’ và ‘influencers’ reveal just how complex the staging of every good Instagram photo lớn is. They usually talk about the work of framing, composition, lighting, environment, và the learned skill of managing facial & bodily comportment as essential investments in a ‘hot’ protệp tin pic. Often the production of hotness requires at least one assistant. There are also financial & skill investments in dressing & maintaining the toàn thân, which involve sầu interpreting fashion, shopping for, purchasing, learning how to use and applying clothes and cosmetics, as well as time-consuming và difficult diet và exercise regimes that produce certain kinds of desirable bodies. And that’s before you even get to the luông xã of having been born thin, or Trắng, or late enough khổng lồ capitalise on your youth online.

The theory of Human Capital helped produce what Foucault describes as the ‘entrepreneurial subject’. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky is fond of using the word “micro-entrepreneurs” to describe users of his platsize. In an interview with Stephen Colbert in 2014, he said “what the Sharing Economy really means is that now people in 60 seconds can be micro-entrepreneurs”. He also voiced a dream that “everybody should be able khổng lồ participate in the economy lượt thích a corporation” This is almost exactly what Foucault meant when he described human capital as a theory under which the worker “appears as a sort of enterprise for himself”.

It’s telling that Stephen Colbert opened his interview with Chesky with a joke question that connected Sharing Economy platforms with sex: “What’s is the difference between Airbnb and home page prostitution?” Those who are most successful on both Tinder and Airbnb are those who invest enormous amounts of time, energy and resources inkhổng lồ their own human capital, learning to present themselves or their homes as available & desirable. The uneven rewards of Sharing Economy platforms, combined with the isolation of individuals as the only ones accountable for their own success or failure in the ‘markets’ these platforms create, mean that everyone who participates is bound to lớn think about themselves in these entrepreneurial terms.

Turning human relationships into a market exchange

Tinder abandoned its Elo ranking system in 2018. It seemed that the vast majority of users without the skills or resources lớn make their profiles st& out didn’t enjoy seeing that failure reflected in the unappealing profiles they were served up by the algorithm. Disenchantment was one predictable response. So Tinder changed the algorithm again, probably to something called the “Gayle-Shapley algorithm”.

There are two important things about the Gayle-Shapley algorithm for our purposes. Firstly, it is a solution khổng lồ something called the ‘stable marriage problem’. Secondly, when Lloyd Shapley won a Nobel Prize in 2012 for a different statistical solution to the same problem, the citation was for “the theory of stable allocations và the practice of market design”.

The ‘Stable Marriage problem’ is one of matching preferences. It assumes the existence of a gender-balanced group of heterosexual people, & asks, how can we match them up in stable pairings? All pairings are stable when no two matched people would rather date each other over their current partners. In a mix of stable marriages, unrequited extramarital desire is possible, but not a full-blown affair.

The fact that marriage is used as a metaphor for không tính phí market behaviour tells us that the designers of the problem và its solution think about dating as a problem of resource allocation. This is echoed by the title of the University of Michigan study that concluded that users on Tinder tkết thúc lớn ‘swipe up’: “Aspirational pursuit of mates in online dating markets”.

The Sharing Economy Mã Sản Phẩm is ultimately very simple: find an aspect of human relationships that can be reconceptualised as a problem of exchange và replace it with an algorithm-driven market. Airbnb was born out of the idea that people like lớn keep airbeds, sofa beds & guestrooms so that their friends và loved ones can use them. We’ve sầu all helped friends move sầu house or build Ikea furniture, Airtasker commodifies that. There was even a short-lived burst of Sharing Economy apps — Neighbourgoods, 1000tools, & Open Shed — that turned neighbours lending each other power tools inlớn a market transaction.

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Slee quotes a venture capitadanh mục who calls Sharing Economy apps “people marketplaces”. This is exactly what Tinder has turned dating inlớn, except the value that is traded is desirability và dating capital, và the exchanges are of bodily fluids in preference lớn money. The proliferation of ‘Sugar babies’ — or the trading of youthful femininity for money — means that there is now an mạng internet dating specifically for rich men to buy the companionship of attractive sầu young women. In the Sharing Economy, dating is governed by some very old forms of exchange.


Chuyên mục: Share