Grindr, adam4adam, and the Death of Flirting (NSFW)
We don’t publish a lot of original material here at RTNT, but I wanted to throw this up somewhere now that its original home is offline. Its target audience is gay men, but I have a feeling that some of my grumblings speak to a larger feeling that this brave new digital world has made what it means to “know” one another a little less human.
This column was first published in December 2010 by MTV’s now-defunct 365Gay.com, in a censored form. My editor at the time wrote: “We are a Viacom-owned site, so words like ‘cock’ aren’t appropriate,” I guess to preserve the sanctity of the company behind the Jersey Shore.
- Chase Whiteside, Editor
As most 365Gay.com readers know, previous generations of gay men had to walk three miles uphill in the snow to hookup. Today, we have Grindr. Getting a blowjob is about as difficult as ordering a pizza.
If you’re not hip to Grindr or you don’t have a smartphone, you might be familiar with one of the many other online services gay men utilize—adam4adam, Manhunt, DList, Find Fred, Gay.com, Out in America, etc.
Like gay bars, these services serve a practical need. While straight men live in a world where most of the women they encounter could at least potentially be attracted to them, gay men live in a world where most of the men they encounter would not be, under any circumstance. So we seek situations where the probability of meeting someone is higher. We want better odds.
Lest you think my familiarity with these services comes merely from research for this column, I’ll admit right now that I have profiles on more than one.
At 9PM on a Wednesday, logging onto adam4adam and filtering for Dayton returns 287 options, with handles like “TeddyBare57,” who notes that he’s “looking for love” alongside a picture of his unremarkable penis, and “AbercromBGuy86,” whose otherwise blank profile suggests that the only thing I need to know about him is where he buys his cargo shorts.
Page after page of available men willingly share their “stats” and desires: age, weight, height, and cock size; for safe sex or bareback, group sex or one-on-one, rimming, nipple play, sex toys, and much, much more. With so many acronyms to decipher—S&M, B&D, PNP—it can feel a bit like playing Scrabble. In a bathhouse.
You can specify if you’re looking for “right now” or later, lock and unlock photos for specific users, and friend them or “block” them. You can even see the people who looked at your profile and decided not to contact you, triggering distressing little moments of self-doubt.
After a few minutes, a buzzer announces new messages from “StraightActN,” a bottom who introduces himself with a not-especially-thoughtful “u r hawt,” and “CumSlam80,” who inquires of my profile,“whats a cinephile?”
Something tells me he’d be disappointed to find out.
Grindr differs from browser-based services like adam4adam in that it harnesses the awesome power of GPS to reveal other Grindr-enabled gays in your vicinity, who are terrifyingly sorted by proximity down to the foot, turning your cellphone into a literal “gaydar.”
If you fancy a nearby user’s one allowed photo and 180-character limited profile, you can attempt to chat with him. If he fancies your profile back, maybe he’ll respond. Good luck.
For me, these services are bad internet habits, browser tabs and mobile apps I open not because I’m looking to hookup or meet Mr. Right on a Wednesday night, but because I’m bored and they can be sort of fun.
But they can also make for a lonely, wasted evening.
These services encourage us to turn our predilections into requirements, confusing improbable fantasies with expectations. As a result, many gay men fear succeeding with someone as much as they fear rejection—why settle if you can hold out for the man of your dreams?
A user functions as the product and consumer, the objectified and the objectifier. An inch too tall, a year too old, or a mile too far, and you may be filtered out of consideration by an unsympathetic search algorithm.
Never mind that in person you might break some boy’s usual rules and surprise him with your shared love of chess: if he isn’t sold by your photo and line of text, you’ll never get the chance. Alternatively, it may be you who filters someone out that you shouldn’t.
You are just another option in the grid, little more than your stats. But while these stats might tell us far more about someone than we could comfortably glean in person—cock size tends not to be a real-life opener—they might not be the most important things to tell.
Perhaps worse, these services’ abundance of offerings hastens the social-networking phenomenon of replacing a few deep relationships with a mass of shallow contacts. Intimacy is cheap, online and off. We juggle multiple possibilities only to readily and callously dismiss those we tire of, perhaps for fear of investing too deeply in one.
To be sure, these services have positives. Many younger gays find affirmation of their normality using them, especially in rural areas where they may feel isolated. I found my first boyfriend online, years before I’d set foot in a gay club.
But the last time I set foot in a gay club I was mystified. Approaching a guy the “old-fashioned” way meant vying with their device for attention. Looking at all of the guys who ostensibly came to the club to meet one another instead transfixed like bugs by the glow of tiny, private screens had me feeling ‘double-rainbow’ incredulous: what does it mean!?
It means lonely gay men whose hard-earned, real-world communities have been hijacked by for-profit web services. It means that the experience of finding someone is rigidly dictated and limited by the design whims of programmers. It means the death of flirting and the rise of people who’d rather virtually “poke” someone than face the absolute social horror of approaching them in the flesh.
I worry that we’re becoming tools of our tools, a community of strangers connected for connection’s sake. It’s dehumanizing. And unsexy.