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Sometimes the Internet just drops a magical gift into your lap when you’re not even looking. This is just such a moment, thanks to our good friends at Vanity Fair and Tinder.
In brief: Vanity Fair wrote a story about how apps are killing dating. Tinder had a meltdown on Twitter.
What is beautiful here is the glorious symmetry between these two antagonists. The actions by both parties are absurdly indefensible. As such, you don’t know which side to root against. You can only hope that, somehow, the lunacy escalates.
As is typical in such Internet fights, the stakes are so impossibly low, the outcome so irrelevant, that you could barely even measure the importance of this dispute with the world’s most powerful microscope. As you’d expect, it’s all the Internet is talking about this morning.
So, it’s my turn. Because let’s be honest, it’s summer and it’s slow.
Let’s start with the Vanity Fair article: Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse.”
This is one of these sweeping trend-spotting articles that mags such as Vanity Fair love to write. As readers, we know reading these things is like guzzling a package of SweeTarts while slurping a blueberry Icee. Not particularly good for you, but sometimes junk food is irresistible.
And as journalistic junk food, this story has an extra layer of Nutella spread atop it for good measure. Magazines and newspapers have been heralding the doom of Youth for decades now (These kids with their Rock-N-Roll music and their long hair and blue jeans!). It’s so easy to spot the flaws in the Vanity Fair story, it seems a bit unfair to even point them out.
Oh, what the hell.
It begins with the overly long opening anecdote. If you’re like me, it was pretty shocking to discover that a handful of Wall Street investment bankers sitting in a trendy New York City bar only wanted to sleep with women and not date them.
Mind = Blown!
Until now, I had seen investment bankers as our greatest paragons of virtue, the last bastion of chivalry in an increasingly heartless world. I assumed they viewed all women as their equals and partners in their ongoing crusade to make the world a more just and equal place. I believed the Ivy Leagues taught these men the ancient rituals of courtship, liking asking a girl’s parents for permission to date their daughter and all that ante-bellum hoo-ha.
But no! They turn out to be misogynistic, self-serving pigs. Who knew? Next thing you’ll tell me is that they’re greedy and reckless.
Alas, that’s one more piece of my childhood innocence lost. (Sad emoticon).
The next bit of awesome badness: Except for a brief sojourn to a sorority house in the wilds of Delaware (disclosure: I once lived in Delaware and can still find it on a map), the author pretty much only interviewed people in New York City. Which makes perfect sense. Because as everyone in New York City knows, the whole world is exactly like New York City. And those who aren’t like New Yorkers are probably just a bunch of primitive turds who aren’t smart enough to get the jokes in Seinfeld anyways. So, screw ’em.
Next, we move on to our expert: Justin Garcia, a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction.
“There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years,” Justin says in the story. “The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.”
Really? So, birth control, the advance of women’s rights, the broader sexual revolution, the increasing numbers of women in the workforce…These didn’t change heterosexual mating much? Color me skeptical.
Finally (there’s more, but it’s almost cocktail time where I live), we come to this little doozy:
The data underpinning a widely cited study claiming millennials have fewer sex partners than previous generations proves to be open to interpretation, incidentally. The study, published in May in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, became a talking point for its surprising conclusion that millennials are having sex with fewer people than Gen X-ers and baby-boomers at the same age. When I asked Jean Twenge and Ryne Sherman, two of the study’s authors, about their methodology, they said their analysis was based partly on projections derived from a statistical model, not entirely from direct side-by-side comparisons of numbers of sex partners reported by respondents. “All data and all studies are open to interpretation—that’s just the nature of research,” Twenge said.
Ho-kay. As reporters, we’ve all been in this situation at one time or another. You have a thesis. You pitch it to your editors and they bite. Then you report-slash-go-to-a-lot-of bars for weeks. Then you writewritewrite, go through 20 revisions, and you’re almost across the finish line…When you stumble across a fact that contradicts THE ENTIRE POINT OF YOUR STORY!
You run to the bathroom, hide in the stall, and lock the door, sweat pooling in your armpits and your heart racing. What to do?
The answer is obvious: Pooh-pooh the study. Ideally, you’d find someone else with research that contradicts the conclusion. But if not, then try to discredit it yourself. Which is what she tries to do by noting that the “analysis was based partly on projections derived from a statistical model” and that the data is “open to interpretation.”
The thing is, as the researcher notes: That’s true of all data. And when it comes to social scientists, some kind of projection and statistical model is always used. Because when it comes to studying human behavior, it’s tough to interview 7 billion people. Not only would it take too much time, but you’d also have to leave New York City to do it!
In this case, the study in question was published in a peer-reviewed journal (not always 100 percent, but still…). And it involved data gathered from a survey conducted by the General Social Survey of 33,000 people over 40 years. So, that’s a lot of data points.
As for the analysis, as one social scientist told me: “General Social Survey is the gold standard of surveys.” As for the researchers, my friend says: “They used hierarchical linear modeling, a more precise way of analyzing data than pure descriptive statistics.”
Of course, any social scientist will always offer the caveat that nothing is 100 percent certain, because that’s what they are always trained to say. For now, I’ll side with the study, which as noted above, pretty much cuts off the whole story at the knees.
Bottom line: the Vanity Fair article is nonsense. That’s not to say anything for or against Tinder. Just to point out that if dating is headed toward the apocalypse, there’s nothing here to prove it.
Given the nuttiness, Tinder should have simply rolled its eyes or tweeted a funny GIF or that ubiquitous shoulder-shrugging emoticon thingy. (¯\_(ツ)_/¯).
Instead, they reacted in a now-classic Tweetstorm that amazingly, almost a half-day later in the cold light of day, has not been taken down!
It began with:
Hey @nancyjosales — that survey is incorrect. If you're interested in having a factual conversation, we're here. https://t.co/SLWlTLvJuf
— Tinder (@Tinder) August 11, 2015
And ended with:
But it’s not going to dissuade us from building something that is changing the world. #GenerationTinder
— Tinder (@Tinder) August 11, 2015
Changing the world? Uh, folks…it’s a dating app. Nothing wrong with that. But let’s remember, we’re not curing cancer or eradicating hunger here.
What’s more curious is that people have been taking jabs at Tinder pretty much from the start. You’d think skins would be pretty thick by now. But apparently this was one poke-in-the-eye too many for someone at Tinder Social Media Central. As a result, not only do they come off looking overly sensitive, but they no doubt generated far more traffic and attention to an article that most people wouldn’t have read.
Whatever bad situation existed was made worse. Which is the classic PR no-no.
But, as I said, this is all good news for us bystanders. Unless Apple is planning to change its corporate name to Orchard this week, or some other type of nonsense comes burbling out of some other corner of the tech world, this fight is the best we’re going to get.
Let’s just hope it lasts.
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