This study examines the dating and hook-up culture in the UKand the role of digital and mediaplatforms. The popularity of the onlineworld has influenced communities in significant ways. The gay community was the first to embrace the internet dating world. With aparticular focus on Grindr, one of the widely used gay apps used for social networking, this study focuses on two aspects. First, how does the app perform as a dating platform?And secondly, how do the participants behave while on the app?What are the positive and negative aspects of digital dating? Do the users go beyond cultural stereotypes and definition of beauty in their preference? An account was opened with Grindr with apseudo name to access the site and study user behavior. Later on, a fake picture and some demographic informationwere added to it. With the help of this, the response of the users was noted and analyzed in detail.
how dating and hook-up culture has been influenced by digital and media
platforms in the UK,
Technology has brought about disruption and changed lives all over the world. The Internet has created a platform for people to network with others easily and immediately. Therefore, it has changed intimacy and sex in a major way. Dating and “hooking up” have been made accessible to gay, bisexual, minorities and others like never before. ‘Hooking-up’ websites, platforms and apps have gained recognition in digital platforms since the early 90s. Online dating apps are now the current fashion (Pruitt, 2005). However, different communities and sexual groups have gravitated towards this trend at different times and speeds. Arguably, it was the gay men who first became comfortable with using digital media as a tool for socialization and interaction (Boyer, 1989). Later on, as the stigma of online dating subsided, other groups including straight men and women assimilated into this form of communication and dating. This interaction and social engagement have become popular because of theavailability of tools like mobile dating apps and platforms such as BBS, digital forums, chat rooms and countless dating websites. Some of the websites include Hornet, Matchmaker, Jdate, Fitnessdate and Yahoo’s Club Connect (Arvidsson, 2006). Most popular dating apps are Tinder, Grindr, and Scruff among others.
In this paper, I will explore and examine the positive and negative aspects of dating apps for gay community of the UK. The discussion will be guided by reviewing existing literature and analysis and profiles of Grindr users. The positive and negative aspects of dating apps in the UK will also be analyzed.With a focus on Grindr, one of the widely used gay apps used for social networking, this study reviews the app’s performance as a dating platform and evaluates the behavior of participants while on the app.
In recent years, internet dating sites have become a part of popular culture and the initial stigma around them have minimized. It is a new era in the dating scene. A large pool of prospective dates are in one place, and busy and overworked people find it a great way to network and find casual or serious relationships. The online nature of the interactions has also led totheliberation of sexuality. Gay people are enjoying a newly found freedom. According to a study by Boyer (1989), homosexuals, especially men, have endured stigmatization, negative sanctions and in some cases experienced different forms of orchestration. They have had to endure increased arrests and unwarranted violence (Grov et al., 2014). The Internet has changed all that. It provides them safety and security and they can reach out to others from the safety of their homes.
Furthermore, homosexuals have had limited ways of interacting, especially when they could not access the gay bars and clubs, gay community groups or the public sex venues (Frankis & Flowers, 2009). Thus, gays were yearning for a platform that would guarantee unrestricted pleasures and freedom (McGlotten, 2013) and help them reduce their loneliness and interact anonymously. Digital platforms filled that gap. Indeed, these platforms have cut across various barriers associated with time, geography, politics, race and language, creating no hindrance for dating and hook-up. The success of such platforms is evident in an increase and openness among most homosexuals to communicate actively and no longer be ashamed of their sexual identity. More so, even the straight men and women are noted to become more open about their sexuality and communication with prospective partners.
Dating and hook-up apps are recognised to facilitate recreation and redefined the dating culture. The fact that digital platforms and social media provide anopportunity for people, whether straight or homosexual to interact freely and virtually, has made it one of the best tools to fight cultural stereotypes especially those related to sexual identity (Wiele & Tong, 2014; Mowlabocus, 2008). With the ability to post and browse several faces and profiles, the digital platform provides an opportunity to get some background information on the partner, their profile and broad interests and their geographical location. Similarly, the ability to have real-time communication, whether through chatting or face-to-face communication via the digital media drives the dating and hook-up culture beyond the normal and reduces geographical distances (Pruitt, 2005; Brubaker et al., 2014). However, the participants who left the app found the platform to be prone to casual sexand believed that the site objectified men. It was hard to find the right person and build a relationship from the large pool of men. It was like finding a needle in a haystack. The chats, photo swap,and location on a map all contributed to distraction.
To examine and explore how digital and media platforms influence dating and hook-up culture in the UK.I will be conducting a study using Grindr, one of the widely used gay app used for social networking. The purpose of this study using Grindr is to determine how dating apps work, how participants behave while on the apps and how the apps act as dating platforms. By doing this, I will be able to provide firsthand information and primary data on dating culture in the UK amongthegay community. Besides this, to support my research findings,I will also use some secondary sources such as (Arviddson, 2006; Brubaker et al., 2014)which aid in answering the questions pertinent to this research.
The reason for selecting Grindr as an app decipher the negativeand the positive aspects of dating are because it is easy to download, user-friendly and caters specifically to the gayand bisexual community who are the key focus of this research. The gays and bisexuals have in the past experienced stigmatization and discrimination, due to their sexual preferences. Their adoption of thedigital platform for dating and hook-up forms an interesting basis for investigating how the digital and social media have helped shape the dating and hook-up culture.
After downloading the app, for the first week, I filled in a few details. The whole idea of downloading this app was to have access to the member’s profile. On the profile, I just entered some basic description of myself, and I used a pseudonym. I also did not include my photo or image. I used a pseudo-account since the essence of this was for research purpose.
The goal was to examine whether beauty or stereotypical definition of appearance was important on the site when it came to user response on the digital and media platform.I analyzed many user profiles and then in the following week;I personalized my profile further by including some pseudo-demographic information of a below average profile.I also entered a profile picture thatI had copied from an internet site that permit image reuse. My goal was to use it only for this research, and I deleted the profile once the research work was done. Like most of the profile pictures on Grindr, my picture showed attractive toned muscled with a bare chest and no other part of the body. The purpose of such a picture was to determine whether the people using Grindr were more inclined to looks or were looking for something more than an attractive person.
Member profiles analyzed on Grindr during this researchis private. As mentioned, all information entered on ‘my profile’ from the app Grindrwas deleted immediately after the work was done.Also, while on the app, I refrained from engaging anyone since I did not intend to hurt any user and the whole purpose for creating an account was for research purposes only.
Findings from Profile Analysis
Grindr is a social networking application created for gay and bisexual men. One can download the app free and become a member, but they also have a subscription option. The goal is to help these men meet other men in the same area by using geolocation, a mobile feature. Image or photo is of consequence for this app. The pictures appear near to far depending on the location of the users. By clicking on a picture, one can see where the men the profile of others and they can video chat, share pictures or location. Proximity is apriority on this app site. You can also read the testimonials of people on the app. It does not have advertisements. Grindr is the largest app community spread over more than a 190 countries with more than 4 million users. Grindr has to follow the regulations set by Apple and no profanity or nudity is allowed.
Subscribing to Grindr or any other dating app, one enters into a limitless dating space with tons of potential dates and hook-up (Mowlabocus, 2008). In Grindr, the experience is different. It is the most downloaded and used dating app in the UK and worldwide especially by the gays and bisexuals. As of November 2016, there were about Over 10 million downloads. Its potential to connect people both virtually (while online) and physically; by showing in real-time the location and distance of a potential date make it even more interesting and has revolutionized dating and hook-up culture for the gays and bisexuals (Blackwell et al., 2014). It allows users to input such information such as body type, profile pictures, height, weight, and ethnicity, among other demographic data. Also, users have the option to include their intentions for using the application. Users have the choice of choosing friends, relationship, date, chat and networking in the tab “looking for.”Through the app, users can locate the geographical location of a partner by using location locating technologies facilitated by the app and also, the app allow users to link via social medias such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram among others (Wiele & Tong, 2014).
In the first week, with few details on the profile, Idid not receive much attention from the millions of users of Grindr. Then Iaddeda few more details like below average income still got very little attention. However, once I added an attractive picture in the second week, I couldsee that many individuals were available for chat. Indeed, I bet the profile picture of a ‘masculine, bare chest guy’ that I had chosen for ‘my profile’ was adding to the attention given to the profile by the users.I was able to view 500 profiles, and I can attest to the fact that a beautiful picture goes a long way in attracting members on Grindr. Of these 500 pictures I viewed, over 80% were complete. About 60% of them were pictures without a shirt. The pictures depicted toned, masculine and handsome bodies. In respect to age, themajority (over 80%) of the profiles that I analyzed were of young people aged between 18-35. There were some older men. The majority of the older males identified themselves as bisexuals.
On the section, ‘looking for,’ different individuals were using the app for their variousreasons. Some were using it, as indicated in their profile to search for possible date and/hook up while others, over 50% of those whose profiles were analyzed were using it to get friends. Only a small percentage (12%) was using it for aromanticrelationship. In respect to aracial preference, an option enabled in Grindr; there were a few who candidly indicated ‘no Asian or blacks’ while others did not seem to bother.
Most people on the site were interested in casual interaction. Many people are extremely busy and do not have time to make friends through the tradition route of family gatherings, places of worship or community service. They find it easier to find someone through these sites. As reported a small percentage are looking for aromantic connection. Most people are looking for a casual interaction. It was evident from some of the chats that therewere high excitement and an element of fantasy. Fantasy plays a major role in new and unknown friendship and potential interactions where the information about the other person is limited. Some of the sites like match.com are seen to promote the fantasy phase and keep the users on the site by branding themselves as the most eligible candidates. People who are happy and living fulfilling lives join the site just to extend or share their blissful life with somebody else (Arviddson, 2006). Grindr brands itself as the largest app for gay men who are affluent, cool and tech savvy. That is to mean that they are smart men, who travel and have fun in their live.They can be shirtless on Grindr but are not vulgar.
The platform, however,is more geared towards people who are busy and are looking for casual sex. The platform does not focus onindividuals who want to have a romantic relationship or are looking for friendship and a long term relationship. The app also must become more sophisticated regarding data analysis because the sheer volume of the data can be overwhelming for a member to scan and reviewto reach the right person.
Analysis and Discussion
The above summary of profiles in Grindr reveals a lot about the gay and bisexual community and how the digital platform has shaped their dating and hook-up culture. In the past the sexual minorities, especially the gays the UK needed to visit bars, cruising parks or community scenes to interact, date or hook-up. Their sexual orientation hindered them to interact freely with the rest of the people as they were ostracized and discriminated. With dating and hook-up apps even showing the proximate of the possible date, these groups have emerged and gained popularity. A look at the different nationalities, age, body sizes, and colors represented in these apps depicts how the apps have helped the gay men express themselves more openly and honestly. According to Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs (2006), this would not be the case in a face-to-face context.
Indeed, Mowlabocus (2008) argues that the digital platform should notonly be virtual but also be seen as a public scene as it is has gained more popularity just like other public forums or exhibition arts. This is true, as observed in Grindr since it allows people to meet both virtually and also physically through the use of geographical locating technology. Business and advertisers have noted their impacts and influences and have started to use them to promote their products and services (Sigee, 2016). This is a sign that the apps have contributed to the accommodation of the sexual minorities in the mainstream. In the UK, these apps have replaced the community groups and forums; hence, leading to theclosure of some of these scenes like is reported by Webber (2015).
On a negative note, dating and hook-up apps have some short-comings not common with the physical dating scenes like the bars, community groups/forums, and cruising parks. These negatives are both at individual levels and at the gays and sexual minorities’ levels. At an individual level, despite creating a platform for unhindered social interaction, there are numerous cases of racism (Rodriguez, 2015), heart breaks (Arvidsson, 2006; Brubaker et al., 2014; Wysocki & Childers, 2011) and physical injuries and harms reported (Lake, 2016; Claire, 2016; The Gay UK, 2016).Theanonymity of the userspartly aggravates this problem. The anonymity is true despite the fact that users of apps such as Grindr and Tinder have their profile pictures and other information available.
The availability of millions of people to chat, interact and communicate with, dating apps are time-consuming and sometimes, users ends up frustrated (Boyer, 1989; McGlotten, 2013). The availability of such huge numbers of people do not necessary translate to seriousness as some are in the app just for curiosity purposes(Grovet al., 2014) and chatting with such people is just futile. Besides time consumption, some of the hook-up and dates organized via these apps ends up negatively and sometimes with fatality (Lake, 2016; Strudwick, 2014). The apps are also recipes for infidelities as shown by Wysocki and Childers (2011). Also, as observed by Blackwell et al., (2014), the use of these apps have aggravated the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. This isbecause the app enables even total strangers to meet virtually, start a casual relationship, and some end up having sex without even knowing the status of their date/hook-up.
Some gay, especially the older one still cherish the queer spaces and are unsatisfied with apps taking over from such the experiences of such places (Mowlabocus, 2008; McGlotten, 2013). The popularity of these apps has contributed to theclosure of some bars and gays scenes. In the UK alone, such places like The Black Cap, Barcode, The Edge, Dukes, Queens Arms, Route 73 and The Little Apple among many others have closed down (The Gay UK, 2015).
Regarding the apps contribution in creating spatial relationships, these apps; Grindr Tinder and others have gone beyond the odds and broken the spatial boundaries that were synonymous to the chats and dating website (Arvidsson, 2006). Noting the penetration of smartphone globally and the easy of downloading an app, coupled with curiosity and experimental nature of human beings; the subscribers of these apps have grown exponentially (Claire, 2016; Ellison et al., 2006). They have created a platform that is beyond the physical scenes regarding accommodating people different colors, age, language, and nationality. With the apps, time or distance is never an issue. The ability to chat in real-time, browse different profiles, agree on issues like places to meet and the nature of the date or hook-up before the actual meeting is just a sample of how dating apps have created new spatial spaces and fostered spatial relationships. Similarly, the ability to know users within one’s locality has enabled the gays and bisexual to meet and interact even more.
Contrary to the assumption that they represent the ‘collapse’ of thevirtual and digital world, the increasing number of people using them is proof that online dating is taking root (Crooks, 2013; Blackwell et al., 2014; McGlotten, 2013). Similarly, there are still some other people who are not all that comfortable coming out of the mainstream and reveal their sexual orientation. Thus, such would still use the apps in the gay bars, cruising parks, bathhouses and other gay community groups and forums.
Why the gay community involved in online dating options first, and this has always been a question asked by many. The primary reason for this is the social stigma and the pressure of the society which was not ready to accept gay and lesbian relationships till lately when various laws regarding the same were passed in several countries. Till now, people in many countries are protesting against the old norms and customs which don’t readily accept same sex relationships. One can very well imagine how hard it would have been for the society to digest relationships of same sex couples till a few decades ago. Then, what was the solution for this grave problem of gay and lesbian couples? To satisfy their urge and develop relationships they craved for, gays and lesbians took to online dating sites first. And, the fact can’t be denied that home sexual couples have used online dating sites more than heterosexual couples. For heterosexuals, it was easy to find someone according to their likes outside, but for homosexuals the journey remained always difficult when it was related to finding a life partner.
There has always been mixed response related to online dating. Some people get the gift of satisfying relationships through it while others have ended up in only frustration. Thus, much like other ways of dating,online dating also has its pros and cons.
Understanding from a psychological point of view, let’s discuss a few benefits and drawbacks of online or digital dating.
Finkel and associates (2012) presenta detailed review of the literature investigating various aspects of online dating. The main aim of their review was to evaluate whether online dating was to find how online dating was superior to face to face dating. Results of their assessment reflected how online dating was different from traditional dating in a number of ways. It also gave a detailed view of some of its superior features as well as the possibility of some potential problems.
On an overall basis, Finkel and associates (2012) found that online dating was different from traditional form of dating in mainly three areas- Access, Matching and Communication.
There are a number of online dating sites which give the option of personality testing as well as matching for choosing one’s perfect partner. Such options certainly help one in finding a more compatible partner. However; such process may not prove to be accurate for everyone and actually lead to losing the more potential partner.
In online dating,the computer-mediated communication may not always provide a safe platform for interaction as commitment, the most important thing in a relationship mostly lacks in it. However; the fact can’t be denied that such relationships flourish as they don’t face much risk of time commitment. For the busy professional, such communication patterns prove to be an excellent option.
With the above discussion, it becomes clear that online dating can be best used as a resource for meeting individuals and further optsfor eventual face-to-face dating with them. If one keeps this goal in mind, it will definitely preventone from suffering the drawbacks of sole online dating where the only medium of meeting remains computer mediated communication which can’t be much trusted.
Cody Freeman writes in a new essay published by Time “These depersonalized conversations are what lead to depersonalized relationships.” Freeman claims hookup apps like OkCupid, Tinder and Grindr are destroying gay culture by perpetuating the stereotype that gay men are all a bunch of whores. He also believes the apps encourage “shame-based” relationships. Freeman acknowledges that the apps aren’t all bad.
He says, “Compared to traditional dating methods, these apps provide many advantages.” He further adds, “You save time on bad blind dates and boring conversations, you can connect to someone anytime you feel lonely, and if you are rejected you simply move on to the next person.” But he also warns and states the fact that convenience comes with a price.
Freeman writes, “Because there are thousands of people at your fingertips, it also creates a society of oversharing, superficiality, and instant gratification. You are on the grid 24/7 and you must advertise yourself.”This creates a condition which he calls as “paradox of choice.”
Grindr and Tender are reinforcing the cultural stereotypes around beauty to a large extent. As per the latest data, over 40% of the relationships formed through online dating remain unsuccessful after interaction of a few months. The main reason behind this is the lack of compatibility and shattering down of the first impression which is formed on the basis of the looks.
If we think in terms of building a strong relationship which is not just based on looks, then online dating may not be the right option for that. Through digital dating, the first impression is formed on the basis of the profile picture. In fact, the interaction starts after one judges the other person on the basis of the picture. However, in face to face meeting, the primary aim is to understand each other. The decision to connect with a person using online dating mainly depends on the looks rather on understanding.
In a wider sense, Tinder, the Facebook based dating app, provides a wonderful opportunity or potential platform for people to meet those with whom one may not be able to connect most of the times due to hesitation or lack of courage. The environment of Tinder is very friendly, but the way it plights the young generation can’t be denied.
Moving away from the world of dating apps, if we try to understand the social culture, we will be able to see how it can damage the present generation. Through Instagram, people crave to live the way others enjoy their lives which many a times leads to depression. The person is less influenced by the personal growth and pays more attention to the images of false opulence which are mainly portrayed to grab other’s attention.
Tinder also operates in a similar fashion. The first thing which a person views after making a profile on the site is one’s own as well as other’s pictures. Details about the person are only shown if anyone is interested to read it. Typically, a person’s interest is determined on the basis of pictures. A person hooks up with the other person who are mainly strangers based on their profile pictures. Here, projection becomes more important than actual substance which creates problems at later stage if a person tries to take the relationship to the next level.
Tinder wants you tomake a decision about a person only on the information and visuals presented to you. Grindr, the geolocation dating app which is mainly for homosexual or bisexual men displays users’ profiles, which again are mainly pictures. Users can message each other or send pictures as they wish.
Grindr is highly fascinating mainly for the gay community. In spite of all the social strides and civil liberties that the gay community has recently experienced, the stereotypes still remain that gay men avoid monogamous committed romantic relationships.
Undoubtedly, online dating sites and apps are transforming relationships to a great extent. It has been revealed that more than 10 percent of American adults and over 40% of the total population opts for online dating sites while looking for relationships.
However, this unique fusion of technology and romance need to be taken very carefully while keeping both its advantages as well as drawbacks in mind.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that society was going through a phase of nihilism, a term through which he point towards a society devoidof morals and values.The rise of dating apps like Tinder, Hinge and Grindr which encourage mainly the youth to judge their potential lovers in a fraction of a second can be seen as the frivolous foundation on which modern day societies are being built. Such sites certainly make the person obsessed with pleasure and crave for any mode which could give him instant gratification.
The fact can’t be denied that the rise of online dating in our culture has increased self indulgence for which the biggest sufferer has always been the long term relationships. The availability of large number and varied choices offered by dating apps and websites didn’t exist before. A study on the rise of this trend revealed that the Internet made it easier for user to find partners. The effect was seen more in homosexuals and middle-aged people who found it much easier to express their desires online and get a partner according to their needs.
As users get swayed by photographs, the dates or matches are mainly based on sexual attraction and airbrushed beauty. Most of the times, the profile pictures are also represented which leads to greater confusion as well as danger of forming a false relationship. It certainly creates an instant physical spark, but constructive communication can’t always be ensured in such relationships.
Dating and ‘hooking-up’ are among the key benefits of digital platforms and social media. With more people searching for partners beyond their immediate boundaries, this wave has proven not to be a fad. Though there are some risks and disadvantages of using such platforms, those like Grindr and Tinder remain popular especially with individuals who are looking for fun and those who stick to traditions for doing things. Their potential to create a virtual ‘public’ space for the sex minority have helped in their acceptance in the mainstream, especially in the UK. They have also led to theclosure of some traditional meeting places. Manygays and other sexual minorities do not feelthe need to visit mainstream bars and social places. Despite this, there as still some hitches with the platforms that need to be streamlined to make digital and social media dating and hook-up culture better.
Grov et al., 2014
Frankis& Flowers, 2009
Wiele& Tong, 2014; Mowlabocus, 2008
Pruitt, 2005; Brubaker et al., 2014
Arviddson, 2006; Brubaker et al., 2014
Blackwell et al., 2014
Wiele & Tong, 2014
Ellison, Heino, and Gibbs, 2006
Mowlabocus 2008, Sigee, 2016
Lake, 2016; Claire, 2016; The Gay UK, 2016
Boyer, 1989; McGlotten, 2013
Grovet al., 2014
Lake, 2016; Strudwick, 2014
Wysocki and Childers 2011
Blackwell et al.,2014
Mowlabocus, 2008; McGlotten, 2013
The Gay UK, 2015
Claire, 2016; Ellison et al., 2006
Crooks, 2013; Blackwell et al., 2014; McGlotten, 2013