At a mostly gay birthday party this past weekend, Grindr—the smartphone app that allows “gay, bi and curious” men to chat, share pictures and locate one another with GPS precision—was, along with drinking and, well, drinking, one of the main activities. Strange, perhaps, considering that the party was a social function where one could conceivably locate potential new friends in the flesh. However, the little yellow matrix of artfully lit faces and blunt, bare torsos still captivated many in attendance—including the only straight girl present.
“Sarah,” we’ll call her, even had a profile herself. Going by the name of Sam, a “fun-loving Southern boy,” and representing herself with a picture of beer, Sarah checked in and chatted just like the rest of the men present. And why? According to Sarah, Grindr is just fun (or funny), an odd little window onto the fantastic cornucopia of sexual self-expression that is the gay community.
Later this week, the company that created Grindr will release a version of the app for heterosexuals, and they’re calling it “Project Amicus.” The Daily Beast reports that the straight Grindr will still rely on GPS location as a central feature, but, responding to the idea that women’s sexuality is different from men’s, the design will focus more on text and less on visual stimulation. The app’s designer, Joel Simkhai, is pitching it as a more efficient version of Craigslist’s “missed connections” forum, as opposed to a cruising or hook-up assistant.
While the generalization that women don’t like pictures or casual sex is obviously silly, the focus of the new app is understandable: After all, in most situations women can safely assume, just based on statistics, that the men around them are 1) straight and 2) probably at least curious about sex, so providing a more safe, filtered means of making contact would seem to be the only service left to provide. However, I have a feeling that this app actually isn’t going to interest many people. As Sarah expressed, the real appeal of Grindr seems to be a kind of friendly/titillating voyeurism, spiked, perhaps, with a shot or two of narcissism. True, Grindr users certainly find friendship, sex, and even love through the app, but in my experience, grinding is really just a more advanced version of that old website “Hot-or-Not.” You look to see who’s cute or busted, you chat to see what people will say, and you criticize/praise profiles to your friends depending on your tastes. Then, you close it and check your email or, you know, talk to your friends in real life.
Of course, this is no scientific study, but my impression from having spoken with numerous users is that Grindr rarely facilitates deep conversation or real connections. That’s just not the point. And without the silly pics and peek-a-boo allure, the app is just a weird mash-up between Ok Cupid and Foursquare—little roving profiles on a map. If you want to know if someone 17 feet away enjoys long walks on the beach, why not just ask?