Like tiny beacons in the night, blue smartphone screens shone from the second-floor patio of The Manor nightclub at Wilton Manors. Several men were standing there — not mingling, but rather browsing dating profiles via phone apps — looking for guys who were a few feet away.
Dating apps, with names like Grindr, Daddyhunt, and Scruff, are growing in popularity and redefining the way gay people in South Florida meet. The weekly South Florida Gay News recently published a guide on how to navigate the apps, and some gay bars are adopting them as well.
But they have also sparked debate among friends and clubbers. Are they useful or harmful?
Some say they help eliminate the initial awkwardness that comes with approaching someone in a bar, others say they promote promiscuity.
“Because the apps are localized, you can see who lives in your neighborhood and who lives a mile or two away,” said Fred Fejes, a media professor at Florida Atlantic University who uses Daddyhunt and Grindr for social media. “I have a network of friends that I know through these apps. Sometimes we meet over drinks or dinner.”
Grindr is the most popular of these smartphone apps and, like the others, uses Global Positioning System coordinates to pinpoint the distance between users.
Stephen Hill from Delray Beach uses Grindr to meet new friends and for casual hookups.
“It shows you what the person looks like, proximity, and you can provide real-time photos and send [your] exact location,” Hill, 45, wrote in an email. conversation and to meet.”
But others think they are just for hookups and can harm the gay bar scene as users can chat on them from virtually anywhere.
“It’s like a penis LoJack. I really believe it’s a purely sexual app,” said Peter Cramer, 51, of Oakland Park. “I don’t think it’s used for dating. It’s just sex.”
Cramer, who repairs computers and printers for a living, doesn’t use Grindr but uses the technology to this day, chatting with men online at websites such as Adam4adam.com or Manhunt.net. But he prefers a more old-fashioned approach. If he hooks up with another guy online, he’ll chat with him on the phone and then meet up at a bar or cafe.
He also doesn’t like how it changed the clubbing experience.. “We like going to a club to interact with people, not phones. It’s like taking your computer with you,” he said.
“I’m one to go out and see what’s out there,” said Antonio Dumas, 37, owner of To The Moon Marketplace candy store at Wilton Manors. “I’m looking to date or go out to dinner.”
Not just to hook up
And yet the apps have been embraced by gay establishments. Georgie’s Alibi at Wilton Manors coordinated at least one Grindr party, which invited local app users to the bar for appetizers and drink specials. The Manor advertises on Grindr to attract locals and tourists.
“It makes them stand out even more,” said The Manor general manager Jason Tamanini, who offers clubgoers a free drink or reduced cover if they show his Grindr ad at the door.
Bar officials say these dating apps can make it easier to socialize in their businesses.
“It’s hard to meet people in gay and lesbian society,” said Jackson Padgett, co-owner of Georgie’s Alibi. “When someone meets someone on Grindr or these apps, they choose to meet at our place because it’s public and safe. These apps help us more than they hurt us.”
Grindr was started in 2009 by two Los Angeles men who wanted to create a social networking app to meet other gay men nearby. Since then, it has grown to 3.5 million users worldwide.
South Florida is one of the site’s main usage areas, with about 100,400 users in greater Miami, 32,000 in greater Fort Lauderdale and 3,700 in the West Palm Beach area, according to Scott Lewallen who co-founded the app with Joel Simkhai.
On average, users spend 1h30 per day on the application and connect 8 times per day.
“Grindr was about the need to find out who around me was gay. Fortunately, technology seemed to be aligned at the time,” Lewallen said, referring to the second-generation iPhone.
The app’s name is akin to a coffee grinder, he says, “the idea of bringing the guys together.” He said 70% of users use it to make friends.
“People don’t just tune in,” Lewallen said. “People use Grindr to meet people for meaningful relationships, whether it’s friendship or love.”
There are also heterosexual dating apps, including Blendr – a heterosexual, less sexual version of Grindr – but it hasn’t gained in popularity, unlike gay apps. Fejes, the media professor, said this could be due to the availability of more heterosexual dating and social networking sites such as Match.com or eHarmony.com.
“There are so many other websites and apps available for straight people. The competition is much higher,” he said. “For homosexuals, there are not so many.”
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