By Nicole de Groot Castillo
Once upon a time I entered a social dating platform called Tinder. It’s where you match people not so randomly according to an algorithm based on your physical location. TBH I used it because I was curious what all the buzz was about…
I soon learned it was about making people feel rather inadequate and small, through very performative and superficial means. These digital spaces of dating were very generous in the amount of sexist, misogynistic and fatphobic comments that men so freely provided. Where had I experienced this before?…. It became clear to me that the behavior online in this virtual corridor, was not much different to the behaviors I’d seen and experienced while in the physical, very real corridors of public space— which are equally embedded with making women feel small, trapped, singled out, and so on via various forms of abuse.
On my way to deleting this nuisance from my life, something happened. One comment was focused on nothing but actual, genuine communication. A GLITCH in the system, perhaps? What started as messages on tinder soon turned into writing in letters. This went on for 2 years. 2 years of writing to a person I had never met, and who I didnt really remember what they looked like, nor they me. All we had was a physical address. No phone number, no email. No Tinder.
Imagine my agony of awaiting each letter!
In that agony, I actually went back on tinder and tried out the same— I would leave random notes for men on tinder to find – I’d tell them where in the city I hid the notes and once they confirmed they’d found the letter, I’d stop all contact with them, or “Ghost” them. It was purely a test, to see if this GLITCH really had some ground beyond my experience. And because I was fearing that I would be disappointed if I had really made all of it up in my head.
Because not only did this exchange happen in 2015, years before Covid. Before the general population took virtual exchanges more seriously. It was a story I told all my friends at the time, but they were so sceptical such a thing could happen, each time alerting me: “is it even real if you’ve never met that person in real life?” Yet, it felt real to me. But it did beg the question, how can reality be justified? This epistolary exchange made clear to me how these applications in virtual/digital spaces we use regularly, truly become embedded in our daily lives– so much so that they become infrastructures with the same patterns and behaviours as physical infrastructures of transport and public space. We go through them like corridors, like the streets and subway spaces of our physical worlds. And as such, these are spaces that can be GLITCHED. The value of a glitch to me is that it opens up that underlying potential for serendipity that can happen with a complete stranger. Even when these spaces are ridden with behaviours and unwritten rules of how to perpetually dehumanize people, especially women and minorities.
And for those curious enough who wonder what happened to that initial Glitch? Well, one day I hopped on a Flixbus from Amsterdam to Hamburg and I surprised him there. That was the first time we met in person, (what many call “real life”) and we have been together ever since.
“Cherish the belittled and discarded: the corny, earnest and feminine. Find alternatives there.” – Alok Vaid-Menon
Nicole de Groot Castillo (she/her) researches urban public space and its potential for social cohesion. Entrenched in ecological and playful ideologies within urbanism, she is interested in redefining definitions and imaginaries that shape the creation of space by and for people.