Gay bars vs. Grindr: Let’s stay on our phones tonight

Will Grindr Kill Gay Bars? Grindr Founder Responds To Claim That The Hook-Up Is Killing Gay Bars. This week saw a spate of articles about whether Grindr and other geo-enabled smartphone apps are hurting gay bars because of an interview with Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai in Time Out Hong Kong:

Many people think apps like Grindr and Jack’d have been having a negative impact on gay bars – they believe it drives away their business. What would be your response to that?
I don’t agree with that. Even before Grindr, I think, sometimes you wouldn’t go out. But today if you go to any gay bar or club, you’ll see many people are using Grindr. I think our users are still socialising in bars and clubs very well. And even if you’re in these places and too shy to come up to someone, at the bar you can still use Grindr. On the other hand, a lot of our advertisers and companies that we work with are bars and clubs. The feedback we get is that Grindr is a very effective tool to drive traffic.

Although we might expect the CEO to stress the mutual compatibility of his app and nightlife, the equation of Grindr with a gay bar was made in one of its earliest, and most quoted descriptions. At the beginning of 2010, co-founder of The Awl Choire Sicha wrote a brief note titled “Grindr: When Gays Stop Being Polite And Start Getting Real:”

Grindr: the iPhone app that is the future of insane, GPS-locating gay cruising? Or the scariest gay bar on earth that is all over the earth? (…the answer is the latter most likely)


Sicha illustrated his story with the screenshot above, taken from the now-defunct Tumblr “Guys I blocked on Grindr.”

2011 saw a slew of articles making simlar claims. Jezebel asked “Is the Internet Killing Gay Bars?” Using Grindr at a bar was described in a  Vanity Fair article as “cruising within cruising.” Author Matt Kapp described similarities in the conflicts between the ways people use bars or apps: “Occasionally a virtual bar brawl between the Headless Torsos and the Faces spills out onto the sidewalk.” But, the author concludes, “Call me old-fashioned, but I’m nostalgic for the pre-mobile-device days, when a night out on the town held the promise of adventure—or at least the unknown.”

Is Grindr a global gay bar, in competition with bars, or compatible with them? Or assuming that it is at least compatible with some, which? The BBC  in 2014 addressed the question “Do Gay People Need Gay Bars?“:

Apps like Grindr have also had an effect. There’s a case that the bars have become less about meeting people for sex and more about general socialising. “Maybe the number of gay bars will decline but there will still be a market,” says Jez Atkinson, co-owner of the New Bloomsbury Set. “Dating apps and websites have changed the market place but bars will still provide an important social aspect of gay life.”

Or to put it differently with the title of a recent book, is there actually a story of “how one app changed the way we connect”?

What a trip to the bar and a scroll through Grindr promise “serendipity,” the lucky encounter that provides a wacky story, a memorable conversation, or a hot hookup. Yet it is also blamed for things that were common both in previous internet dating sites or everyday face to face interactions. For example, one guy blames Grindr for “killing gay sex” because of users’ racism, while another faults the emotional labor involved in managing the app.

More likely the app enables people to do things they already were doing. Technology rarely causes us to change our behavior.

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