Dating and ‘appiness in Hong Kong

Dating with Phone Apps IllustrationMention dating apps at any gathering and summon a chorus of socially awkward outbursts, from snorts and lip smacks and oofs of despair, to eruptions of playground giggles.Tinder02

Whether you’re looking to settle down in Tai Po, or transcend from megabytes to love bites in LKF, there are plenty of apps available. And whilst the typical user experience may not compare to locking eyes with the one aboard a Parisian steam train, it might be every bit as steamy.

The app of choice for single index fingers in Hong Kong it seems is American Tinder, which first set sparks flying in 2012 and became a global phenomenon, speaking the language of love in 24 tongues. Similar in design is Singaporean Paktor, which is essentially Tinder painted orange and marketed to Southeast Asia. Yet to explode in popularity it’s certainly optimistic, advising you to ‘like’ 50 people a day.

tindr quoteBoth apps are hailed for their almost insulting user-friendliness. Look at a picture of someone who has conveniently been selected for you based on your location. Like them? Swipe right. If they do the same to you, hurrah! It’s a match and you can chat! Don’t like them? Swipe left. The end.

For the chattier, there are WeChat style apps, only with a more amorous vibe. Mildly stalkerish, they display who’s online within a certain radius to you and you can ‘like’ them, see who’s ‘liked’ you, and chat instantly. Most popular in Hong Kong is American Skout, launched in 2007 as a mobile social network before undergoing cyber Botox and reemerging in 2009 and looking for love. With game like features including a virtual currency, wink bombs and stickers (nothing says ‘Let’s chat’ like a clownfish) it’s unsurprising that our city is one of its biggest markets. Also available is more serious British Badoo, (2006) (no stickers here), but it does have an addictive Tinder style game called ‘Encounters’ if you’re feeling wild.

There are several for gay men, too. With Jack’d you can refine your search according to ‘scenes’ – are you a looking for a Twink, a Bear or Strictly Friends? Edgy Grindr has a bondage mask for an icon, which is all you need to know (that and it has a sister hook-up site for straight people named Blendr).

So are we really all just one app installation away from the altar, are they really all they’re cracked app to be?

OT, cliques and alcohol prices can make it hard to meet new faces, and the fun and casual nature of apps help users expand their social horizons and in more unusual situations. “I’ve been seeing a guy for a few months,” says one Jack’d user. “When we started chatting, I was on Dragon’s Back and he was cooking an omlette.”

Many users feel empowered by the apportunity to be more forward. This works well if you’re after a more fleeting romance; “It was 3 am and he texted me once, one word only; SEX.” says one Tinder user. However some take this empowerment a little too far; “It’s a shame he was so attractive”, moans an ex-Tinder user. The message reads: ‘No smoke, social drinker, no gamboling [sic], no drug addition [sic], never been married, no children, no desieses [sic] and I’m looking for wife.’

But in-between these extremes are plenty of success stories. “The guys I’ve met on apps are much nicer than the guys I’ve met in bars,” says one lady, now in a relationship with someone she met on Tinder, “it’s easier to find someone you’re compatible with.”

Discreetly chatting on screen can also take the pressure off and be less intimidating. “My parents are hoping I meet a guy soon,” says one Butterfly user (Butterfly is a Chinese social networking site for lesbians). “So I find it easier to talk to other girls on my phone than face-to-face. No one sees or knows what I’m doing so I feel more relaxed about being myself.”

But apps are apps, and not immune to bugs and crashes. Common sense is definitely required – obviously if you ask ‘do you have any pets?’ and your new friend responds with a nude shot, you know they’re not for you. Also, motives are not always obvious. “I met him for a drink,” says an ex-Scout user. “He took me into a private room and introduced me to all his colleagues and clients and a bunch of hookers. I was his free escort.”

After all, it’s easy to mask bad habits behind a screen, and not everyone has a cyber sixth sense to see them. “She seemed normal enough so I agreed to meet her for a drink,” says a guy who now can’t even look at a dating app. “But a first date at 1 am on a Thursday, in 7/11? I arrived, she asked if I had any crack, I didn’t, and then I left.”

Personal safety aside, dating apps can wreak havoc on your sanity. People can become disillusioned with their endless notifications, addicted to the buzz, or lose confidence if someone doesn’t respond. Others become overwhelmed. “You can find yourself meeting so many people within a short time and not have time to reflect on what you really want,” says one intermittent Tinder user. “And you’re not always free to reply, so conversations can’t flow.”

One thing is certain. Whether you find yourself on a dirt track of despair or the highway to ‘appiness, dating apps are definitely an unpredictable ride.


 

By Rachael MacKenzie

 

One thing is certain. Whether you find yourself on a dirt track of despair or the highway to ‘appiness, dating apps are definitely an unpredictable ride.

 

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