JungleFever. That's the Tinder handle of Arun, a 20-something social media marketer whom I spent a week working with this summer on a project at the University of Delaware. Arun is of Burmese descent, rail thin, and brown skinned. (Get it? JungleFever.) He spent most of his time staring fixedly at his phone, rapid-fire typing in the pistoning two-thumb-sideways-iPhone style. At dinner one night, Arun was still immersed in his phone, banging out an incessant barrage of Tweeting et al. When I mentioned to Arun that I admired his dedication to his clients, he looked up from his phone for a moment and smiled at me. Arun smiled at me the way you smile at your grandfather, who has just mistaken you for his brother Harold, long dead. "I'm on Tinder," Arun said. "I'm trying to get a date."
For those of you not reading this on your mobile phone, let me explain what Tinder is. It's basically a matchmaking service on your phone, tied to your Facebook profile, that uses GPS technology to locate potential dates in a given geographic radius. The app allows users to anonymously like or reject people's photos. When two users like each other, Tinder opens a chat between them. Here's the app's tag line: "Tinder is how people meet. It's like real life, but better." Which I read as: "This is a hook-up app for young, pretty people." (Tinder is downright coy about its intention to get its users laid compared to the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer app Bang with Friends.)
Arun was kind enough to show grandpa how the app functioned and the thread of the chat with a young woman he was going to meet for coffee after dinner. "So you've never met this girl?" I asked. "You mean, like, organically?" Arun asked me right back. Yes, I meant "organically," as I realized that Arun probably "met" an equal number of people online as he did in person. The distinction was semantic, not substantive. As I would never consider any interaction in the digital sphere—be it through e-mail, Facebook, or LinkedIn (my limited digital tentacles)—as qualifying as meeting someone, I glimpsed the difference between how Arun and I encounter the universe.
No great revelation here, but I suspect my status as a digital immigrant, and Arun's as a digital native, goes a long way to explaining it. Arun spent his childhood surrounded by sophisticated digital devices. As a child, I functioned as a human remote control, standing at the television with my hand clicking the knob back and forth between the six channels available. (I'm not including PBS. Why would you include PBS?) Our first home computer, the Commodore 64, came with an external cassette tape drive.
Thirty-five years later, I am an avid tech user, having spent almost the entirety of my working life staring at computers. For most of us, this is just how we work—moving ones and zeros around with a device named after an "organic" creature. (Quick question: When you read the word "mouse," what do you think of first: a rodent or tool for navigating about on your computer screen?) We all live in the Land of Digital, whether we are native or immigrant.
And it should be noted that the launch of this magazine in 1993 was made possible by a very particular advance in computer technology. Chronogram is a product of the desktop publishing boom that began once layout software like PageMaker and Quark hit the market in the mid-80s. No longer was it necessary to own expensive typesetting equipment, or even be that adept at graphic design for that matter—the programs did the heavy lifting for you.
Returning to Arun and Tinder: Back in the day, we all had to meet organically, even if it was via the Personals. And as someone who was not particularly adept at picking up women in bars (the awkward, used car salesman-like quality of the interaction seemed as tacky as it was terrifying to the fragile ego) I imagine Tinder would have been a useful and time saving tool when I was single. Instead of staring at a girl across the bar for two hours, screwing up my courage with shots of Bushmills all the while, I might have saved my liver and risk-averse psyche the trouble and had some Tinder chats.
While we were in Delaware, I witnessed Arun capitalize on his use of Tinder—he made numerous dates with women, sometimes more than one date in an evening. Coffee. Drinks. A walk across campus. When Arun told me this, I favorably compared him with Wilt Chamberlain. He gave me that grin of benevolent condescension again. As to what happened on those dates, I haven't a clue. Arun is a gentleman and wouldn't offer details, despite my protestations that my prying was just research for an upcoming piece I was writing. (See Arun? I told you.)
A few weeks ago, I ran into Arun, whom I had not seen since the summer. After pleasantries, I asked him if he was still on Tinder. He told me that he had a steady girlfriend, whom he had met just after we had last seen each other. "Did you hook up with her on Tinder," I asked? "No," said Arun. "We met organically—at a rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike."