Remember college, where you had to listen to a man wearing a purple American Apparel hoodie zipped all the way up talk about Animal Collective if you wanted to make out with him? Where you braved basement improv shows and student fire-eating performances to maybe run into someone you liked from class? Where you wrote things like “is going out tonight” in your Facebook status just to put the right vibes out there?
All this was hard work, labor that often ended in humiliation, miscommunication, disappointment, self-loathing, and sometimes vomit. I once traveled miles by car to attend the concert of a white rapper whose performance name has a question mark in it to impress the object of my desire. It wasn’t perfect — many things about it were terrible! — but it was ours. And I wouldn’t trade it, even for a million dining-hall points, for the outsourced, commercialized mating of dating apps. Nowadays, ruthlessly efficient algorithms have fully infiltrated the college campus. In my mind, the new frat party is a circle of polo-shirted men with their heads so intently bent into their phones that the keg remains untapped, the beer-pong balls snug in their Solo nests.
Unfortunately, the reality is even more dystopian. Not only does Tinder have its own college version, Tinder U, which has helped make more than half of the company’s customer base 18-to-24-year-olds (who should be running around embarrassing themselves without giving up their data!) but both Tinder and “feminist” app Bumble are sponsoring parties, providing branded “swag,” and even getting fraternities to sign “exclusive contracts” so event attendees will have to sign up for an app before they enter, if they don’t have it already.
According to the Houston Chronicle, we don’t know how big this college-party data-collection panopticon is: Bumble and Tinder “declined to specify the scope of their campus involvement, though both said their apps have college-marketing events across the country. Students who have been to parties at Oklahoma University, Tulane University, and Northwestern University confirmed the events were sponsored by the apps.” At the University of Texas, a poster hung outside one party featured a QR code and the cheerful threat “Simply scan to enroll!”
Do these companies see a problem with forcing people to download a dating app to enter parties at fraternities — institutions rampant with problems stemming from their coercive culture, including both sexual assault and hazing? Do these kids care that they’re selling their personal lives for a Bumble-branded tumbler or a better sound system courtesy of Tinder? Why does this all make me feel suddenly so old, and so sad?