Of all the strange new things that shape the way we interact, I think Tinder may be the most interesting. We’ve discussed, in the past, my general hesitation to jump on the technological bandwagons my peers establish every several years, and I think it partly stems from the fact that every time I give in to a trend, I learn an often difficult lesson about the nature of my own humanity.

Just like when the telephone overtook the letter as the primary means of correspondence, and people's everyday vocabularies became less descriptive, and conversations became more mundane as they became more frequent, a new paradigm means a fundamental change in not only how but what we communicate.

If you've never been exposed to Tinder, the concept is fairly simple: Your spacephone brings you pictures of all the people within a specified distance, gender and age range, along with up to 500 characters of their self-reflection. You then express your interest in interacting with these people by swiping their pictures right or left, depending on…well, that's the interesting part, I suppose.

See, you can be really superficial about it, and just swipe away based entirely on the initial impression you get from a person's first photo and whether it causes a stirring in your loins. Alternately, you can click on it and scroll through more pictures (or their entire Instagram feed), and read their blurb.

While it may seem incredibly shallow to scroll through 100 people in 20 minutes, you slowly become aware of how incredibly easy it has gotten in our society to very effectively judge a book by its cover. You can tell, nine times out of 10, based on the pose in the picture, the literacy of the description and the things they choose to mention, perhaps not whether you'd get along with the person, but at least if you'd like to have a conversation with them.

This allows you to indulge in the mate-selection process anonymously, with no pressure, and no discomfort. Which, in turn, says a lot about us, as a group: the fact that we now boil ourselves down to "what I'm into" pretty readily, and the fact that every social media innovation in the last 10 years has been geared toward mitigating the awkward parts of social interaction. These are the things many people say are "ruining" society.

But I don't entirely agree. It's just different. There are aspects that are better and aspects that are worse. Five hundred years ago, you might have been forced to marry someone against your will, just because they were the only other person for hundreds of miles. Fifty years ago, you might have spent your life with someone you hated because it was socially expected.

These days, I can talk to a pretty girl on my phone and find out if she's shallow, stupid or crazy before I have to sit through a drink with her. I imagine my children might live in a world where you can tell a person to their face you think they're ugly, and it's not considered an insult, and everyone just moves on with their lives.

Tinder has taught me quite a few things in a day and a half. Perhaps it's because I never ask anyone, but I was a little shocked to find out how many people lie about their age and how blatantly unrealistic some of them are about it. All recent college graduates automatically assume you know every university in the country by its initials. But I've already met a couple of people with functioning gray matter, and one of them claims to like beer more than me, so it can't be all bad.

The point is often the least interesting part of the conversation. Have one with the author: miljen@sfreporter.com