Gumperz, code-switching and dating apps

I am embarking on a new area of study relating to dating apps and how they impact the way relationships are formed and navigated. Dating apps have been around for a while now, some of us might remember their genesis back with RSVP a decade or so back - when the majority of us had a sense of trepidation about going online and meeting people. Back then, there were a whole heap of questions which impeded our online dating journey like, what does this say about me? Does this mean I’m the type of person that can’t meet someone face-to-face, in ordinary life? Does that mean I’m a relationship loser? These days with over 1/3 of Australians self-reporting their use of dating apps, things have shifted dramatically - to the point where people only know how to meet online and no longer have the skills to meet in an “ordinary-face-to-face” environment.

But dating apps are constructed online environments. That means our relationships are being mediated through these structures and defined by them. Does that mean that relationships developed over Bumble, are different to those created via Tinder? And what impact does the creator of that app have on the eventual structure of the relationship? All questions I’m looking to answer!

Earlier on in the week I was considering the impact of discourse on dating apps and relationships. Sociolinguist Gumperz tells us that when speaking people engage in an elaborate interchange of “code-switching” i.e. speakers change the form of language they use based on the social situation, as they’re aware of the correlations that go along with it. Put simply, this means, people will talk differently depending on the situation. They also shift their dialogue based on the cues they interpret from the other person. So the words, tonality, and structure of their sentences will shift based on the context. Imagine how you speak to your boss, and then how you would speak to your local publican. Kind of different. In the first instance we might strive to be more concise, refined, knowledgeable, together … and in the second we might aim to be relaxed, fun, jovial, our Aussie twang might even start settling in.

It got me thinking about how people interact on dating apps - meaning, the language they use. Does it shift and change based on the interpretation of the other person? Or based on the intent?

In relation to the interpretation of the person - we obviously have to make a quick summation of them based on their photos and profile content. We then categorise them. Box them into a particular social group. For example, do we imagine them to be smart and social, fun and silly or a little dumb but attractive - and do we then tailor our language accordingly? Furthermore - what about the intent? Surely, the language we use in the interaction is based on whether we perceive this as a hook-up, a dalliance, or a potential relationship?

Foucault would tell us that the subject, in this case the person, is produced by the discourse - that discourse creates subject positioning. Does this mean that our initial judgment and interpretation of the person based on their profile (and our intent) and the discourse we use in those exchanges, shape the person in the relationship?