I spent half of high school on the liberal enough side of Nashville, Tennessee with a number of gay, male friends who, at that age and in that location, were at a more modest stage of outness. At the time only one of them was meeting other men/boys on the Internet, always on a very particular, semi-secret search for some sensitive, Pitchfork-reading soul, preferably with a beard and blue eyes.
A week ago, about six years after my Nashville friend started looking for someone who'd take to his 17-year-old Internet persona, I had brunch with a few of my gay, male and female, friends in San Francisco, obviously a far more open playground where one probably has at least an 80 percent greater likelihood of meeting people of his or her preferred sexual orientation than in Nashville. Despite this, or because of it, all three males at the table spent the majority of the meal on their phones locked into, and openly discussing, Grindr -- basically real-life Gaydar (Meet the men nearest you with this free, GPS location-based smartphone app!) -- in case you haven't yet had the pleasure of scrolling through the rolodex of faceless 12-packs. By the time we'd gotten through a few mimosas and benedicts, the females at the table had been largely ignored save for some input on the cleverest sexual innuendo about syrup, one guy had spent a little extra time in the restroom, admittedly attempting to capture his groin at the right angle for a gentleman on the other side of the restaurant, and the resident couple amongst us was demanding our bill as they'd arranged a quickie threesome in the neighborhood within the hour. This was sort of like that moment in that one Sex and the City episode where Carrie goes "Are we sluts?" except I seemed to be the only one around not savvy enough to use my smartphone to get laid.
This post was supposed to be an observation on how the overwhelmingly abundant use of Grindr in this city affects another "non-tradtional" dating activity, gay speed-dating events. However, while I tagged along to a gay speed-dating event my 25-year-old male, graduate student friend attended (put together by a few different queer volunteer groups), I quickly realized the night was going to be split into two parts: Enjoying the quirky novelty (and free wine) of the seemingly antiquated idea of in-person "speed-dating," and then heading out to the Castro, iPhones in hand, to explore "what else is around" -- which I suppose already answers my initial question.
We arrived at the speed-dating event and I proposed that my friend not look at his phone for a little bit, to start with some good ol' fashioned in-person first impressions without the instant x-ray. All the twenty-somethings at the event, a good group of intelligent, put-together individuals, generally followed the same protocol as to not be rude during the table-to-table portion of the night. However, once the mixer began, most phones were out, and my friend, like many in the room, was eager to see what was happenin' in the virtual underbelly of the room. We found about 13 out of the 25 individuals in the room active on Grindr during the mixer at different times, with a couple giggly groups of people openly finding each other in parts of the room and mapping the room together, while also individually entertaining surprisingly dirty sexts considering the close proximity of attendants and people not at the event. A fair amount of numbers were exchanged but only a few people paired off for the night, while many others, like us, decided to meet some friends at a bar with a couple people at the event my friend was not romantically interested in. Unexpectedly, our time bar-hopping consisted of both normal bar socializing and a Grindr-fest.
I'd like to think that most of my friends, despite these experiences indicating otherwise, want their meaningless sexual hookups and real, loving relationships at the same ratio most people consider "healthy;" however, the allure of instantaneously exploring prospective anythings or at least simultaneously flirting with multiple people just for fun seems like too much to resist when the power lies in the palm of your hand. After a while I was fairly curious and involved on their behalf, but grew increasingly disgusted by the meat market mentality of the app and its prominent use in the most social of spaces and activities. By the end of the night, two had failed attempts at meetings with people on the app, one resorted to texting his ex-boyfriend on the way home, and one talked to a few people at the bar but couldn't recall anyone interesting. I just kind of never wanted to see a picture of a six-pack again.