Let’s assume a dated, gendered, heteronormative binary.
Straight men who use the dating app Tinder are known to ‘swipe right on everyone’; indicating that they want to put themselves inside every woman they could potentially ‘match’ with. Straight women are, anecdotally, more selective, examining men’s profiles in greater detail and swiping right only when genuinely interested in a prospective mate.
A person as utterly cold and unfeeling as I am would see this as an exercise in single-agent decision theory.
From a game theorist’s perspective, both the ‘swipe right’ strategy and its female counterpart make sense. If women are picky, men who swipe selectively will waste their time sorting through the profiles of women likely to reject them anyway. They’re better off liking every woman, ‘matching’ with the women who are interested in them (a couple will ‘match’ on tinder if they have each swiped right on the other), and then only talking to the matches who they actually fancy. Likewise, it makes sense for women to be picky when all men are swiping right; otherwise they’d be overwhelmed with matches. In economics, we call this situation a ‘Nash Equilibrium’, as no man or woman can be made better off by single-handedly changing his or her strategy (unless their single-handed strategy involves putting down the phone and using their hand).
But last week, Tinder introduced a game (theory) changer: a premium service, ‘Tinder Plus’. To encourage users to fork out for the service, Tinder will limit the number of right-swipes available to users of the standard service. Those who exceed a certain number of right swipes—determined by an ‘intelligent’ (and unspecified) algorithm—must wait 12 hours before they can again drag their insensitive genitals across a shapeless sea of presumably human forms.
These developments mean that the undiscerning (or at least, the poor and horny) will no longer swipe right to everyone. This is because Tinder has effectively increased the cost of swiping right: with a limit, each right-swipe can prevent a person from swiping right on someone better in the future. Tinder has imposed discretion—something they were idiots to initially assume of their users.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Selective Tinder users benefit when their matches are actually interested in them, despite the necessary blow to pride that is the occasional rejection from newly picky creeps. There’s probably also an argument to be made that Tinder becomes a little less gross when men actually consider the profiles of women presented to them; you know, looking at what they like, how they describe themselves, and broadly treating them as human beings, rather than hot rigs to bonk. But these passionate arguments of flesh and personhood do not excite my cold, theoretic soul.
However, there is also a risk that the limit could prevent ‘good’ matches from forming. A man worried about exceeding his swipe limit may swipe left (reject) someone he considers very attractive, as he assumes that his interest won’t be reciprocated and doesn’t want to waste a right-swipe. This means the app is, to a degree, less ‘incentive compatible’; some agents aren’t truthfully registering their preferences when swiping.
This technical deficiency could have real consequences for the quality of matches facilitated by Tinder. Let’s take the (rare) scenario that the hypothetical man above has underestimated his appeal to women. By swiping left, he has missed out on a particularly appealing match. The world may have been robbed of something beautiful.
Of course, to consider this a real, consequential loss is to ignore the fact that Tinder is a loathsome hotbed of meaningless, youthful fuck and that anyone who does think of themselves as worth the affection of more than thirty people per day is probably a piece of shit anyway.