‘Meeting’ people with the intent to date has undergone quite a cultural shake-up over the last twenty five years. In the mid-80’s many Americans watched, somewhat confused, as larger numbers of the population started to use the popular technologies of the time for newspaper personals and ‘video dating’. Many in the older generations were in shock that the age-old concepts of meeting in-person, courting, and long-term dating were replaced by impersonal searches via cold newspaper text and a television screen. These same traditionalists of later generations were driven to their seats with the advent of internet dating, as Yahoo! Personals, Match.com, and sites like ManHunt.net that not only allowed people a new medium for meeting, but confirmed that some people are just out to meet for sex. The erosion of the process of dating likely drove many to frustration and headache.

Well, with the introduction of GRINDR, these same people will likely go ahead and have a stroke.

For those of you who do not know, GRINDR is an application for the Apple iPhone that makes ManHunt.net look about as high tech as a rotary phone. The application opens to a photo of you (your profile) and then quickly populates with pictures of other men. Sounds simple, right? It’s just phone dating. Wrong. By clicking on a picture, you are not only given information about the man you seek (such as height, weight, age) but also are told, by iPhone magic, exactly how far away from this man you are at that exact moment. The pictures, you see, are organized by true proximity, taking advantage of the GPS present in every iPhone. Via the messaging function in the program, you can quickly message your soon-to-be conquest and meet him just around the corner.

My own introduction to GRINDR was seeing the app on a friend’s phone, and not being able to conceptualize what ‘0 feet away’ meant for the man we were viewing…until I saw him waving from across the bar.

While this might be great, it completely stinks of far too much efficiency in the field of human interaction. George Ritzer, an amazing sociologist based out of University of Maryland, wrote a groundbreaking text called ‘the McDonalization of Society’, where he sees many aspects of our social world taking on four key characteristics of a fast food restaurant: efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control. How these relate to GRINDR is easy:

Predictability – some of the predictability aspect isn’t the fault of GRINDR, but the preceding internet dating culture where a certain lexicon allowed for individuals to describe themselves (and what they want) in acronyms and code words. GRINDR, however, augments this, as the potential relationships have an alacrity in which the predictability of these code words isn’t just useful, it is vital.

Efficiency – the main convenience of having the precise coordinates of where your next hookup might be is the definition of efficiency. This aspect, while quaint, removes some of the small talk (where are you from, where do you live) because the info is all there. This is not to say that past generations were paragons of virtue and having deep conversation every time; ever was there the ‘back alley’ or cruise bar. However, thanks to GRINDR, the cruise bar’s gone mobile, and yeah, it’s your iPhone.

Calculability – again, this isn’t a societal issue created by GRINDR, the app simply makes the existing problem even more obscene. When time is of the essence, all one really cares about is ‘brass tacks’, or the elements of a potential hookup that match up to you (top vs. bottom, single vs. partnered, live alone vs. with someone, available now vs. later). It removes the need to get to know someone’s trivial information (oh, I don’t know, like last names), and allows the seeker to go in, get what he needs, and get out (because as far as mapping your way home, yeah, that’s an app for that.).

Control – the sheer benefit of GRINDR for those desiring to reinforce control is that both seekers have equal amounts. Just because you find someone on GRINDR does not mean you have any more information on said person (i.e. you have no phone number or name) and must use GRINDR to find the person again. That person might choose to ignore future comments from you, ‘hide’ from you, or block you. So, the ease at which you can find someone on GRINDR is only equal to the ease at which someone on GRINDR can choose to not be found.

Does GRINDR represent the end of gay Western civilization? Absolutely not. What GRINDR does is illustrate a direction in which we are going as far as the concept of impersonal/anonymous sex and dating (because believe it or not, some seek out future partners on GRINDR). We can use it as a cautionary tale; making something impersonal which is by it’s design immensely personal. GRINDR is a great conversation piece, and might be a helpful tool for some. Anyone who is using it as their main way of interaction might run into trouble, however, for there be dragons.

And no, there’s no app for that.

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