In part 2 of this blog (read part 1 here), we look at the impact of social dating on the behavior and emotional make-up of the user himself.
Grindr, the uber-popular gay male hook-up app that indicates bubble-butt Bob is 60 feet away and ready to play, is being described as everything from evil to ingenious.
In Scott Alexander Hess' brilliant novel Diary of a Sex Addict, Grindr plays a major role in the narrator's increasing isolation and ultimate slide into outrageous sexual scenes. This modern method of connection allows him to hide in his apartment, luring faceless men into his bed and using sex as an addictive emotional balm. He ultimately loses touch with reality, and violence ensues.
Indeed, there is a growing band of gay males grumbling that Grindr, and apps like it, are turning men into robotic, soulless net cruisers who have lost all ability to communicate. Not everyone agrees.
Dillon, an once-interminably-single 40-year-old, is a big Grindr fan. He found his boyfriend after only two weeks cruising the app. Shy and a bar hater, Dillon says Grindr gave him the courage to reach out to men he would never have spoken to in public. He and his beau chatted for weeks on Grindr before actually having sex. This spring, they are moving in together. Wedding bells are apt to ring. (Which ring tone, one wonders?)
"I met a couple of men before I found my boyfriend. We'd sit and talk, you know, get to know each other. It's no different from real dating," explains Dillon. His Grindr dates typically lasted up to four hours.
My boyfriend and I travel a lot. We use Grindr to meet people to talk to more than anything else. We have a collection of interviews with interesting characters -- like D. in Manchester, who likes kissing men (nothing more) and is happily married to a woman. The technology seems to make people more inclined to admit to their little fetishes.
But those may be the exception. Most Grindr dates seem to be about sex only. In Scott's Diary, most fellas are in and out in 20 minutes (that includes a wet towel wipe-down and a glass of water), which leads me to the conclusion that maybe it's all about how you use it -- like all technology. But if we use it a lot, does it change us?
True, half the crowd at most gay bars today are checking their iPhones, texting, tweeting, and realizing the Brazilian with the nine-incher is actually three feet away on Grindr -- and looks nothing like his pics.
The big difference is that we now know details about other people before meeting them. We don't explore strangers anymore; we pre-select them. Our lives may be poorer for that, and our encounters less varied. Like subscribing to a certain newsfeed only, we shield ourselves from people whose profiles don't appeal. A world of no more surprises.
But is that so different from men in the 1990s, posing and grunting, averting their eyes until someone finally made a move, and signalling their likes and dislikes with their attire, or the now-defunct handkerchief in the left or right pocket? We need signals. Most people really don't like surprises.
Ultimately, if you are predisposed to go off the deep end when it comes to sex, Grindr may push you there a bit quicker.
When I chatted up a table full of gay men about the app, they all concurred on one point: every one of them confessed to having fallen asleep at one point or another after continually pushing the Load More Men button (it adds men in groups of 20 to your screen). It's a bit like being the last guy in the bar, falling asleep over the counter.
"Younger guys in particular seem to lose the ability to get to know people by talking," one man said. "You can observe 23-year-olds 'talking to each other' whilst keeping up a conversation on Grindr with someone else."
Matt, 21, admits, "I quickly get bored after I meet the real person. Sometimes I even think of checking Grindr while I am still in bed with the guy I hooked up with. I don't think that's good. But I can't help it."
So maybe social apps change the way our brains work -- needing constant stimuli, unable to focus on the man or woman in front of you.
"Social apps make you feel social, even when you are not." somebody in the round says. "They take away the loneliness, as long as you stare at the screen." Well, it was a bit like that at my favorite haunt 10 years ago. Bar music and booze keeps loneliness at bay, too, until you decide to call it a night and step out into the cold.
Is the net access to love and sex sassy, soothing, or sad? Will it change the way people find sex and love, for good? How have social apps changed your social life? Or your sex life? And what's next on the menu? Full-immersion, virtual-reality dating?
Follow Marten Weber on Twitter: www.twitter.com/webmarten