You are here

The Experience of Social Time in Mobile Dating Apps

The (very) final speaker at Social Media and Society is Dominic Yeo, whose focus is on mobile dating apps. Such apps have fully arrived in recent years, and are now also incorporating geolocation functionality, for instance. Such apps have been studied from a number of angles, but the dimension of time has been largely ignored: how does the concept of social time affect these mobile-enhanced dating practices?

Aspects of this include tempo, duration, sequence, and timing, and all of these shape the subjective experience of social interactions. Dominic's work has focussed especially on young adult, mostly Chinese and gay-identified app users in Hong Kong to explore these.

Tempo refers to the pace of interactions in dating relationship development. The use of the smartphone (compared to the previous generation of desktop-based dating sites) substantially speeds up the tempo of interactions, and enables instant connections; it accelerates the speed and shortens the duration of relationship formation. Tempo has different social meanings: a more gradual pace may imply sincerity; greater speed may imply greater casuality and impersonality. This is ultimately also a distinction between dating for relationships, or dating for sex.

Sequence is another key aspect: it signals a value hierarchy, and is also embedded into the design of the apps themselves. For instance, the browsing of profile photos that is built into most of these apps privileges the visual aspects of a potential partner; connecting through text postings shifts the focus to other expressions of personality and interests. This also affects the sequence of messaging: on many apps, no chats will be initiated without a profile photo, while on other platforms text chats precede the exchange of more photos.

These temporal logics are imbued with normative prescriptions, and the interface design of most apps privileges sexual, visually dominated encounters over long-term relationships. This frustrates people seeking long-term relationships using these apps, but the efficiency of the apps still leads them to use them, if grudgingly and against the grain.