This is a documentation of an interactive performance on the Lincoln Park DePaul University campus in conversation with online interactions versus in-person interactions as well as the technological barrier apps like Tinder create. When approached in person, the participants did not act at all the way most do online; a face-to-face interaction forced a sort of empathy and a fight-or-flight response. A majority of people ignored me, and everyone was too scared to swipe left to my face. Most people were too scared to even swipe. Many pulled out there phones and avoided eye contact as soon as they saw me approaching.
On Tinder, typical messages range from perfectly friendly to, more than often, a bit overly friendly. On many occasions I, as well as many other people on Tinder, have received extremely forward, crude, and vulgar messages usually objectifying the images with which we’ve chosen to be judged.
However, I’ve often wondered how to confront the issue of the technological barrier within Tinder and its effects on our behavior: people are much braver with their comments behind the safety of a screen, which is propelled by the ease of objectification when given a few simple images. I’ve always wondered, “why would this man say this online when he never would in person?” Or would he?
So, I put it to the test.
With a cutout of the Tinder profile screen, I approached students on the DePaul campus and asked them to swipe.
My conclusion supported my hypothesis: the technological barrier drains empathy away from an interaction, and when that interaction is placed back into the physical sphere, empathy quickly and, embarrassingly, resurfaces.
One unexpected reaction was viewers pulling out their phones and Snapchatting the performance. This happened on multiple occasions, as well as viewers asking for photos. This reactions made me worry that my concept had not quite gotten through, being seen instead as a simple college prank. For me, this response was fascinating; upon confrontation of an empathetic vacuum which is usually online, they put their phones in front of their faces as yet another instinctual empathetic barrier.
Yet another unusual response, perhaps the outlier of all the others, was that one one particular young man. We’ll call him Amir for anonymity’s sake. I approached Amir and asked him to swipe, to which he stood back and looked me up and down, then took my frame from me and started framing my body himself, all while verbally analyzing my appearance. Then he told me I was a bit too young for him, but refused to state his age. However, he “superliked” me and loitered around me and my photographer. He kept asking for my number which he then tested to guarantee it wasn’t fake before he left us alone. I blocked the number soon after.
I can’t decide if Amir was an outlier in this experiment or a representation of another effect of online dating: the same boosted confidence fueled by the technological barrier becoming strong enough to exist in the physical world. For this I would need to conduct further social experiments, but this has given me a good lead.