Near the end of my senior year of high school, I made my first Tinder account. I did so while sitting in a local hookah lounge, heavily motivated by the app’s growing popularity and a personal urge to participate in as many 18-and-over activities as possible.

My teenaged foray into Tinder, like my visit to that smoky social club, represented an ardent pursuit of youthful aspirations that extended far beyond socialization. While dating apps and the suitors they deliver certainly boost esteem, I didn’t just want to feel pretty when I made a Tinder account. I craved an affirmation even more fundamental — I wanted to feel like an adult.

For those of us aged 18 to 22, Tinder’s rise to ubiquity coincided with the trajectory of our sexual maturation. For most current undergraduates, joining Tinder served as a digital initiation to adulthood, distinctly satisfying in its transparent embrace of our most sordid desires. The use of dating apps to fulfill this eternal post-pubescent urge was unprecedented, liberating and represents a shared experience that connects us to our peers even as generational labels grow increasingly irrelevant.

Tinder’s bald acceptance of our pre-existing urge to ask ourselves, “Would I smash?” is crucial to understanding the role that dating apps have played in our coming of age. While dating apps have contributed to destigmatizing online dating, a practice previously belittled as antisocial and uncouth, they have also moved to remove nearly all veneers from the matching process. Suddenly, a swipe is all it takes to initiate rituals of courtship, which can proceed with the knowledge of mutual interest.

These new dating protocols provide liberation in their crassness — a release from the constraints of childhood. As I emerged from puberty, an era in which my cravings felt disgusting and embarrassing, dating apps provided a forum to shamelessly entertain my need for attention and intimate interaction. With this newfound structure of flirtation came a sense of autonomy and affirmation that dissolved the chronic feelings of dependence and incompleteness that commonly accompany adolescence. For 18-year-old me, this form of liberation and adulthood felt mutually inclusive.

Of course, similar to adulthood itself, Tinder and other dating apps have made evident some horrifying realities, such as the galling racism, sexism and xenophobia people feel comfortable articulating on the internet. In fact, these practices are so pervasive on dating apps that Grindr, the premier LGBTQ dating app specifically aimed at men, rolled out an initiative called “Kindr” this year to combat the forces of hatred actualized by users on the app.

Therefore, I do not seek to defend dating apps or glorify their creators when I draw attention to the revolution of swiping right. I do, however, argue that the computerization of our impulses came at a particularly meaningful moment for those of us in college right now. Because dating apps expanded just as we started dating, we represent the first group of people who experienced this unique technological sexual liberation.

Tinder fits into our experience of romance in an unprecedented way given our age and the timing of the dating app’s ascension. Thus, this shared experience of identity formation and liberation reveals how technological innovation has increasingly produced distinct lived experiences for people separated in age by a few years – people previously considered part of the same generation.

Indeed, this advent complicates the concept of generations, the typical manner of grouping people together based on the time they were born. As technology becomes more complicated and readily available, this neat model misunderstands the essence of community and group identification.

For those of us in college right now, the arbitrariness of generational divisions feels particularly apparent. We are ambiguously millennials and Gen Zers, and even though some of us strongly identify with one generation or another, there clearly exists confusion regarding our temporal position and what characteristics define us as a group.

Even as I struggle to call myself a millennial or a Gen Zer, I can easily feel connected to someone because they constructed their Tinder as they abandoned childhood — because, in a run-down hookah lounge in 2016, longing to finally be a grown-up, I did exactly the same.

Rachel Biggio is a junior in the College. Generational Gap appears online every other Monday.

One Comment

  1. What a beautifully written article! And a very unique angle. Makes me proud to be a Georgetown alum

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