Generation Z (b. 1995–2009) is unique — and not just because they gave us videos of themselves eating Tide Pods. Z are the first true digital natives; they’ve never known a time before the Internet, unfettered access to social media, and life improved with smart tech. To better understand their generation’s identity, I took a swipe at Tinder. The virtual meat-market is an identity hotbed. It’s a place where you are forced to succinctly say who you are, while spinning your identity to attract potential suitors. A vulnerable, intimate, and strategic act of self-curation, if there ever was one.
What analyzing Z Tinder profiles revealed, however, was a generation so hardwired to reject “labeling” that they won’t even say who they are. It looks like for Z, an identity you can’t nail down makes it easier to get nailed.
“I don’t love how superficial it [Tinder] is, and I’m not actually using it to find a long-term relationship. I think it’s more of a hookup app and more of a time waster. It’s like playing a game on your phone.”*
— Martina M., 18 | MN
Z approaches dating as leaving digital breadcrumbs of their identity across platforms, directing people to Spotify lists, Instagram and Snapchat profiles, and even money transfer (Venmo, CashApp) handles to learn more about them. Or send them pizza money in hopes of making a connection.
What they are saying isn’t much; the majority (70%) of Z used fewer than 20 words to describe themselves in their bios. (BTW, that last sentence was 21 words.) And if they do write something, less than half of profiles actually say something about the user in question.
“I think I’m constantly changing, so the way I want to be perceived by certain people is constantly changing too.”
— Keyla Y., Bronx, NY | age 20, whose profile lists her age as 26
Gen Z is going for intrigue; they hide their faces, use unclear emojis in profile bios, and only upload about half (4.6) of the max allowed profile photos. In a world where hundreds of photos can be found of them online, they opt for a little mystery on Tinder, à la less is more. As a result, Zs’ profile pictures don’t really give you a picture of who they are. Unless you know how to decode 🙃🧐🤷🤫😅.
“I like the sense of ambiguity with limited pictures and bios. I find them good conversation starters.” *
— Miguel P., 20 | St. Paul, MN
Z is looking for no stakes in the ground: a whopping 78% didn’t make reference on their profile as to what type of relationship they were looking for. Maybe it’s because they assume everyone knows what they’re all there for…Not great news for the 7% looking for long-term relationships.
“The experience is just kinda’ of weird; everyone understands the intention and what you really want through this app; however what I wanted was just a hang-out.” *
— Jackson H., 20, Los Angeles
While it may seem counterintuitive for Gen Z to hop on Tinder and give no real sense of who they are, these findings seem to echo what we were seeing in our larger body of research about the generation. We’ve discovered that Z has a totally unique, “relationshifted” view of their identity.
As the phenomenon of finstagrams indicates, Z doesn’t have qualms with the idea of a fractured identity, or multiple identities. Their openness to several versions of who they are is a driving reason why Z largely rejects pinning themselves down with limiting labels — on places like Tinder and elsewhere. Labeling, either through bios that actually say who you are, or via profile pictures that could characterize you in a limited fashion, just doesn’t appeal to the identity-shifting Gen Z.
Who this generation is depends on which identity they are leaning into for that particular audience and situation. And if that audience is a vast pool of hotties on Tinder, well, better to be a blank canvas than a clear (profile) picture. The jury is out on whether or not Gen Z will have someone to Netflix and chill with this Valentine’s Day. But one thing is for sure, dating is never going to be the same.
This information is part of a publicly available report, Identity Shifters: A Gen Z Exploration, published October 2018. Special thanks to Dr. Hillary Haley, Rebecca Lipton, Larissa Chen, David Chang and Gina Zhang
*Supplemental data was from companion ethnography research on Gen Z, not gathered as part of the main profile study