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  • Mia Tabib

Mechanical Thumbs

Author: Mia Tabib


I once saw an advertisement for a mechanical thumb that enables its user to swipe through Tinder matches automatically.

Online dating can be beautiful and meaningful, but using a robot-thumb to swipe over someone’s face should give us pause. The fact that a human being is viewed as the sum of their profile picture and that we can select potential partners based on their appearance bothers me.

We live in a culture that has taken something so preciously intangible and sacred such as human connection (both platonic and sexual) and commodified it. Some of the most beautiful people I’ve met are average looking. Some of the most intelligent people I’ve met are shy and reserved. Some of the most kindhearted people I’ve met don’t smile, but hide their radiance underneath their fierce humility.

All those ‘swipes’ over those un-handsome faces could have been a conversation where that ‘unattractive’ guy bore open his soul to you in a raw conversation. Perhaps you might fall in love with those intangible qualities about him — the way his mind jumps from topic to topic, the way he references his favorite scholar. He’s an INTJ and you love that. He doesn’t put sugar in his coffee and his favorite cryptocurrency coin is Ethereum. You love that. Can online dating AI configure that kind of romantic attraction?

Or maybe you might fall in love with her. You know — that friend you have who was there for you when your boyfriend wasn’t. She would never ghost you like he did.

I don’t want to swipe over you. I don’t want my thumb (mechanical or not) to press on the image of your face. Your beautiful face. Your face which holds painful memories, joyful moments, wonder, and awe.

Do you remember the first time you blew out your birthday candle? Tying your shoelaces for the first time?

Your face holds precious memories. Of joy and sorrow, too.

It’s a bit like picking apart a music box and looking for the tune. Where exactly is the song? No one knows, but tearing apart the gears and cogs instead of embracing the mystery of connection will only lead to heartache. Judging faces off appearances is a cheap way to foster intimacy, in the same way that a mechanical thumb is a cheap way to conjure love.

Three cheers for the faces who are swiped over so effortlessly. In our world of plastic, true beauty lies in those unacknowledged eyes.

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