Technology was meant to make everything better, right?
Pretty much every device launch I can think of in recent years – from the original iPhone through to the current crop of smartwatches – has been coupled with the promises that it’ll make our lives simpler and easier. It’s certainly true that I can’t imagine life without a smartphone in my pocket, for instance, but am I actually any happier because of it?
I’d say no. In fact, I’d say using a smartphone – and all the social paraphernalia that comes with it – is something of an addiction. The habit is to pull it out of my pocket whenever I have a spare few seconds. The problem is, life is essentially a succession of ‘a spare few seconds’. If I were to count out the number of times during a day I check my phone – browsing Twitter, Facebook, Instagram et al – it probably surpasses the number of times I go to the toilet. Or secretly pass gas.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s no more appealing than either of those two activities, either.
My phone and tablet have both become poisoned in recent months thanks to the addition of dating apps. Earlier in the year I joined Tinder, Grindr and Scruff, suddenly realising that I was 32, single, and seemingly doing very little to change that.
You could say my experiment was successful. A few weeks in, thanks to Tinder, I actually had a boyfriend. It didn’t last long, but – despite him not being the love of my life – as an experiment using these dating apps had much potential. I ploughed on. And on. And on.
Tinder itself didn’t last too long. The app appears to have a curious self-imposed shelf life. Once you’ve liked all the people in the area and the app has gauged your opinion on all those nearby and those who have liked you, it stops sending potential matches your way. Unless you move to a new city, it’s essentially game over. Grindr and Scruff, however, work in quite a different way.
Though, like Tinder, they are location based, they are much more specific when it comes to the exact location of those signed up. If you’ve never used either app before, they essentially display members in a grid based format. With your own profile in the top left, the closest member to you at that exact moment shows up to the right of you, the next closest user to the right of them, and so on and so on, with – if the user chooses to allow it – their distance from you in meters or yards proudly displayed.
This means that you can essentially pinpoint where a user is at any point of the day, providing they’re online. This is a whole different kettle of fish to simply showing potential dates who live in your city.
So, why are these gay dating apps so much more specific? Because dates are fairly low down the priority list. They are, essentially, ‘shagging apps’ where – if you so choose – you can arrange a hook up in a matter of moments based on who is in walking distance.
Evidence of this comes from the fact that managing to hold a conversation on either apps – and, indeed, their numerous rivals – is a tricky art. In my time on both platforms, conversation openers by other users have ranged from a succession of “hi” and “hellos” that lead nowhere to unprovoked and unwanted pictures of various body parts. In opening messages I’ve had people ask for my address or given me theirs. I think you’d agree that none of these welcomes are conducive to the start of a relationship. Well, not one that lasts beyond 15 minutes, anyway.
To be fair to Scruff, I did manage to go on a date with one chap a couple of times and had offers of others, but on the whole, scrolling through my messages and who’d viewed my profile that day became something of a depressing roll of honour.
There is undoubtedly a market for these apps, and they have their uses. I have friends who use them for exactly what they’re intended – meaningless, somewhat mechanical, sex. That’s absolutely fine, and I have no problem with that if it makes you happy. I also have friends, however, who are seemingly addicted to it – not just the meeting of people, but the need to open the app up in every new location to see what gays are in the area.
This is something I was guilty of too. More than once when I’ve spied a cute chap in a coffee shop or bar somewhere, I’ve opened up Grindr and Scruff to see if said fellow is gay. A few times I’ve been proved correct and, once, even sparked up a conversation with someone based on that encounter.
As such, both apps quickly became part of my smartphone routine. After checking Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp and my emails to see if anyone had been in touch, I’d also open up Grindr and Scruff. However, a few weeks back I realised something quite curious: While in the early days I’d been excited to see I had a message waiting for me, more recently I noticed that I was positively ignoring any contact anyone made with me. Why? Because, nine times out of ten, it would be someone asking for sex who I wasn’t interested in making me feel like I was an especially bad homosexual.
Suffice to say, hideously unattractive as I am, if a ‘quick fix’ was something I was after, I could venture into Manchester’s gay village and find someone interested/desperate enough after a few drinks to settle for me. Indeed, a recent trip to one of the gay bars in the village resulted in me observing a chain of men around the edge of the dancefloor opening up Grindr and messaging people mere feet away from them, rather than talking to them face to face.
Grindr and Scruff make having sex so easy that the ‘thrill of the chase’ has been completely suffocated. Sex has been made as simple and easy as ordering your shopping from Tesco.com or bidding for something on eBay. It’s not exciting anymore. It’s positively routine.
Yet, these apps continue to welcome a flood of new users. They are almost a staple of the gay world in 2014 – apps people will see no problem with loading up even when they’re on dates with other chaps.
Which is why, at the start of this week, I deleted them from my phone and tablet. I may well relent and download them again at some point, fooled into the idea I’m missing out on meeting the love of my life, but for now, I’m done with them. Grindr and Scruff are both evidence that technology certainly makes certain activities in our lives a lot easier, but it doesn’t necessarily make our lives any better – if my experience is anything to go by, it’s quite the opposite.
So, where will I find men to date now? This week I’ve signed up to Bristlr – a social network for men with beards and the lads and lasses who appreciate them. Yes, it too enables you to search for people in your area, but instead of pinpointing their exact location, encourages chat – beard based chat. It is, at least, a platform that encourages communication around a specific interest, rather than simply greasing the wheels for easy sex, so to speak.
What’s more, for iPhone or Windows Phone users at least, it doesn’t have an app. No notifications. No alerts. I can check it when I like and see who wants to chat. It’s not a habit, it’s not an addiction, and it doesn’t make me depressed. That feels like progress to me.