Adoptly – the Tinder for adoption

With the ubiquity of swiping-based apps such as Tinder, it is not surprising that companies providing other services and even products would want to capitalise on swiping mentality: there are now apps that connect users to job vacancies, clothes, and even nearby dogs.

Not all services are suited to this type of user interface, however: media outlets have reacted with horror towards Adoptly, a US-based app-in-development described as ‘Tinder for adoption’.

The start-up, which has had crowdfunding campaigns suspended from both Kickstarter and Indiegogo, allows prospective parents to set preferences based on location, gender, race, and age, and select children based on their profiles.

Even ignoring the implications of encouraging parents to exclude all children of certain races, this brings up a worrying picture of the adoption process. From the promotional images and video, the children’s profiles appear to be nothing more than a name and a photo, from which parents choose whether they want the opportunity to connect with this child. Those who have reported on this company cannot agree on whether this is satire, or simply an ill-advised concept, despite co-founder Alex Nawrocki’s insistence on its legitimacy. Neither Adoptly nor any of its four creators have any visible presence on social media, and Nawrocki has reportedly been evasive even about his own identity, refusing to divulge where he works. What’s more, Adoptly’s promotional video has the feel of a parody from comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live.

Whether real or fake, this idea raises some interesting questions. First of all, why is this idea so repulsive? There are already adoption agencies which provide online tools for filtering children by the same categories as Adoptly. It is not the concept of a tool to aid the adoption process that sits wrongly, but the manner in which it is displayed.

Despite the fact that online dating is now much more widely accepted – 25 per cent of Britons admit to having at least one dating app installed on their smartphone, according to The Telegraph – there is still a certain taboo surrounding Tinder and its appearance-based rating system. A study published in 2016 by the American Psychological Association found that users of Tinder were much more likely to report low self-esteem than those who did not use it. This is an effect that could very well translate across to children on Adoptly if they fail to match with prospective parents.

Why do we like swiping apps so much in the first place? Developmental Psychology PhD student Hannah Schacter theorises that there are multiple aspects to our addiction. First, Schacter describes BF Skinner’s theory of Operant Conditioning, which explains how we learn behaviour through positive reinforcement. Much like a Facebook ‘like’, the ‘reward’ of receiving a match gives us a hit of the feel-good hormone dopamine and makes us more likely to repeat the behaviour which led to it – in this case: swiping. Incidentally, this is exactly the same reason that casinos make so much money from slot machines. In addition to this, Schacter explains that there is an immense entertainment value to apps like Tinder.

The easy distraction it provides satisfies our desire for instant gratification to fill the gaps when our brain is not immediately occupied. This makes it the ideal model for a company wanting its users to spend hours making rapid decisions, and a terrible idea for making monumental life choices like adoption.

Image Credit: Alexander Drummer

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