- Grindr: Part of a Complete Breakfast
Grindr, geolocative, apps, hookups, sex, relationships, culture, technology, men, Gawker, Rich Juzniak, Sam Smith
Like so many children, I loved Saturday mornings. On school days, getting me out of bed was near impossible, but come the start of the weekend I’d pop awake at eight in the morning, sneak past my parents’ room and plop myself in front of the television ready to absorb as many cartoons as possible. I lost myself in the make-believe worlds and the incredible stories that happened in them.
What I didn’t care for were the commercials. At an early age, I had been taught that they were not to be trusted. It shocked me to learn the children who looked so excited in the ads were actually actors. I admired their gumption to get paid to eat candy or play with toys, but I also felt betrayed by their attempt to make me covet things they had been hired to like.
This cynicism fuelled further dissection of the ads. For instance, I quickly picked up on how commercials for sugary cereals always included the line, “part of a complete breakfast.” The accompanying shot of such a complete breakfast verged on satire: a feast of toast, pancakes, eggs, bacon, sausage, bananas, orange juice, and milk. It struck me as weird that an ad for cereal would also feature so many other kinds of food.
It wasn’t until I was older that it dawned on me why. Most cereals are glorified candy, and being scaffolded by a perimeter of other foods was an attempt to make them nutritious by association. It was like a halfhearted mea culpa from the cereal makers: Can you believe we get away with calling this breakfast? Of course, that never stopped my brother and I from going back for rounds two and three of the stuff.
Part of a complete breakfast would also be a fitting description for Grindr, which remains contentious even as it approaches its sixth anniversary. Some men [End Page 61] proudly declare that they don’t use it—or any of the apps like it—as a badge of honor, whereas others are fierce champions for the app. (A good number of men use it—with mixed feelings—simply because it’s there.) There are numerous benefits to using mobile devices for meeting people, although using Grindr exclusively to meet men has its drawbacks. Balance is the key, a complete breakfast of ways to meet men, with Grindr as the metaphorical sugary cereal.
That Grindr has only been around since 2009 can feel unreal. Like so many technological leaps in progress, the app feels so intuitive and integrated into life that it seems to blur the time before its arrival. (It’s similar to Google Maps: When was the last time you used a printed map and felt lost?) Its impact on queer male culture has been large enough to fuel constant debate about its effect on the culture and the men in it. And, despite increasing competition (including Blued, a competitor in China with twice as many downloads), the hookup app continues to lead the mind share. Grindr has become shorthand for hookup apps, the way people use “Kleenex” for any facial tissue.
Thus, it came as a surprise, when I started writing my 2012 book, Meet Grindr: How One App Changed the Way We Connect, that there hadn’t been many comprehensive pieces on the app. Although Grindr may have dominated brunch conversations, the critical thinking around Grindr had been slower to develop. Much of what I read in the media was of the pearl-clutching variety around the potential dangers—emotional, physical, cultural—of the app. (When I am interviewed, the tone of the questions is usually: “How have hookup apps created irreparable harm?”) And academics seemed mostly interested in the implications around STI transmission.1
Having spent six years covering the technology sector, I wrote Meet Grindr to introduce a new element to the conversation, one that argued how important design was in terms of influencing user behavior: as Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.”2 When...