3 min read

Profile photos

I've been thinking about dating profile photos in the context of the "love or hate" theory of profile creation. The theory goes that profiles that optimize for love-or-hate reactions get you more and higher-quality potential dates than optimizing for general likeability. That's because a strong positive response is a great starting place and, for the people the theory applies to, a strong negative response isn't much of a problem.

This theory makes sense to me, for me. It makes some assumptions, like that people who hate your profile won't cause major problems. I think those assumptions make sense for me and won't for some other people. In order to make it work for me, though, I have to think how to apply it in my situation.

I've been thinking about photos because they're the part of the profile that you need to have to set a profile up at all. This is setting off my perfectionism. I feel resistant to setting up a profile with crappy photos. That's worth examining more, but for now I'm going to take it at face value and ask what good photos might look like and what they might take. What can I photograph?

I'm not sure what I can photograph that will stand out. I don't do a lot of photogenic activities. I'm a gremlin that way. I spend a large fraction of each day on the computer — at work it's programming, reading, and writing, at home writing, editing, critiquing. When I'm not on the computer, I also rarely do anything that lends itself to photos. I read books. I watch TV with my family. I have conversations. I do normal human things and am definitely not a robot. I take part in a public speaking class. I drive sometimes. I meditate. None of these things screams "great photo idea" to me like Jacob Falkovich's stripper pole photo (which is maybe setting the bar too high).

The problem with a computer photo is that it doesn't capture the relevant perspective. It doesn't immediately stand out from other person-using-a-computer photos. If I take a candid photo it's unlikely to capture anything about me that is interesting or different from other people using a computer. At best it's going to look like a stock photo. A meditation photo suffers for similar reasons. This doesn't seem like a good approach.

The problem with a conversation photo is there are other people in it. That's a problem on the level of "they may not want to be in that photo," and also "they may not want to be advertising for you on your profile," and also "I'd need a third person or a camera stand to take the photo," and also "I'd have to point out which person I am," and also the viewer will not be able to understand the photo clearly because they don't have the context of the person I am reacting to. TV with family photos are a bad idea because they are the same thing but every one of these issues is amplified. These photos seem like a straightforwardly bad idea.

The problem with a book-reading photo is that it doesn't add anything over a "book shelf photo." It doesn't establish that I read the book. It establishes that I posed reading the book and wanted to be seen reading the book. I suppose that could be useful if it's a unique book. I'm skeptical still that it's the best approach – showing the face seems important and the reading posture means putting the book in front of your face, which would make that hard. This seems like a bad idea.

Maybe a book-as-prop photo would work better. I remember seeing a photo of a person holding a copy of some math book and looking excited. (I think it was homotopy type theory. I remember the words "type theory" and an acronym of HoTT.) Maybe a photo like that would work. It captures the face and it captures the book as a subject. It's not very specific, but that is something you could build on in the profile text.

(homological type theory? higher-order type theory?)

As I write this, I'm noticing a pattern between book-reading, computer use, and meditation. When I first thought of them I only considered taking a photo of "me, doing the thing." I found with book-reading that there might be other ways of approaching the same material. I don't immediately see how to do that with meditation or computer use, but this idea seems worth keeping in mind.

Maybe it is worth taking the OK on the photo. Maybe it makes sense to start with an OK photo and focus on showing weirdness in the writing of the profile. That approach I think I could do.