Online dating apps allow users to connect with people they otherwise would never meet, and to thwart social norms without raising any eyebrows. In many cultures, men have traditionally been the instigators when it comes to heterosexual dating. But apps like Tinder give agency to both parties by requiring each to swipe right before a conversation can take place. This could help break the old stigma against women making the first move.
How the matched parties proceed afterward can still fall into old patterns, or new ones, like the unsolicited graphic sexual talk and harassment that are almost expected by women on the Internet at this point. Some apps such as Hinge and Coffee Meets Bagel seek to cut down on unwanted verbal exchanges by matching people that run in the same social circles. Others, including Bumble, purposefully require the woman make the first verbal move (at least in the case of opposite-sex matches).
Tinder and similar apps also help tip the balance for shy and socially anxious people, who are at a bit of a disadvantage in traditional pick-up places like bars and clubs. For most, striking up an online conversation is less anxiety-inducing than talking to a stranger in person. And having already been accepted by a right swipe may lend a confidence boost.
Tinder and its ilk can't reverse people's attitudes and neuroses overnight, but they can be useful tools that gradually change the game. And some online dating data gives added incentive. An OkCupid study found that straight men initiated contact far more often than straight women, but that the women who did so were 2.5 more likely to get a response than men, and ended up talking to people who were on average considered more desirable [sources: OkCupid, Victor]. In other words, women who could get past traditional gender expectations fared better.
Tinder is also upping the text game of its users; people who excel at text conversations are likely to win dates. Some users even crowdsource their responses to see what their friends think they should say before responding, which isn't possible face to face. Although that sort of interaction doesn't always translate to good in-person conversation, you can only hope the text interactions will accurately gauge compatibility and break the ice for the first meeting.