It seemed fitting to keep this post until today, the day of the Closing Ceremonies at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. The Games have been filled with interesting stories (lots on Canadians!) but one that struck me was on the high use of the social networking app, Tinder, in the athletes’ village.
Photo courtesy: Digital Trends
Tinder, for those innocents out there, is an app that “facilitates communication between mutually interested users,” according to Wikipedia. Basically, using Facebook, it finds users with common interests as you in your geographic location. They pop up, you either “like” or “nope” them, and if two users “like” each other, a match is made and you can start messaging each other. Sparks fly, cupids smile, angels sing. Or, you get an online booty call. However you see it, really.
Tinder launched in September 2012, making this the first Olympics that it was available at. Lo and behold – the athletes can make matches left, right, and centre! From slope-style athlete Jamie Anderson, “Tinder in the Olympic Village is next level,” to CNN. “It’s all athletes! In the mountain village it’s all athletes. It’s hilarious. There are some cuties on there. There was a point where I had to be like OK, this is way too distracting. I deleted my account to focus on the Olympics.” With almost 3,000 athletes, and then staff, supports, coaches, press… it’s a big messy social network in Sochi. “‘I haven’t seen it in action but I’ve definitely heard the athletes’ village is a melting pot of good-looking people at the top of their sport,’ U.S. snowboarder Alex Diebold told reporters” (CNN).
The humour aside, this brought Kadushin’s small world social circles full-circle for me. “People are said to be connected when they share membership in one of these ‘communities’; conversely, the ‘communities’ are linked when they share at least one person in common” (Kadushin, 122). Obviously, these athletes share a membership in the Olympics – being a top-tier athlete and competing in the Games. There would also be numerous incidences when sport communities are linked between athletes. National teams would share athletes even across Summer and Winter Games (Lolo Jones went from hurdler to bobsleigher, for the USA). She is now a conduit between the USA Teams for Summer and Winter Games, linking fairly distant circles together.
Further, the Olympics are not a “group”. “It has neither clear boundaries nor a formal leadership. Rather, it is a denser region, not necessarily a totally connected segment, of a network” (Kadushin, 125). While the national teams would have leaders, the Olympics themselves are much looser – the IOC exists but doesn’t manage the teams themselves. They govern the rules of the competitions. I would even see that these athletes are likely more governed by their home sport and its leadership, than the Olympics themselves. “Social circles are informal networks usually formed on the basis of common interests. Unlike small groups in which everyone is connected to everyone else, in social circles the links may not be direct but through a ‘friend of a friend'” (Kadushin, 126). In the example that I give here, the Olympic Games are the social circle (common interest of elite athletic competition) and small groups are the sport teams themselves (figure skating, hockey, ski, bobsleigh teams). The teams know everyone on their team directly; they have trained with them for years. But, they don’t know everyone on the national Olympics team – how could they? There are hundreds of them. Further to that, once these small groups go to the actual Games, they are in one big social circle that is messy, borderless and, frankly, huge.
Bringing it back to “love”, the Olympics have always had a reputation for dating and “hooking-up” between the athletes. How couldn’t it? It’s a big group of attractive, fit people with nothing to do after they compete. However, this is the first major time that we saw a social media tool being used to link such a broad bunch of groups together for one purpose. “In fact, the company has experienced a 400% day-over-day increase of new users in Sochi since the Games began last Friday, Tinder CEO and founder Sean Rad told the Wall Street Journal” (CNN). The big bridge that the Games has provided is a common location for these networks to co-exist for three weeks. The Games are the time when you could actually meet someone very far outside of your group, or circle, and possibly form a new one. Clearly, the athletes are having no problems with the meeting part.