Joel Simkhai, the founder of a dating app that caters to gay men, said that his product is meant to solve one of his clients’ biggest problems: finding other gay men. The app’s logo resembles a black mask on a bright yellow background.
“For the logo, we wanted something that brought people back to a primal tribe almost — like an African mask,” Simkhai said in a statement. “It reminded us that the desire to connect with other humans is a basic primal need for all of us.”
Simkhai’s company, Grindr, has accumulated more than 6 million users in 192 countries since its launch in 2009, more than 2 million of whom are in the United States. Grindr is just one app that allows users to look for romantic partners through their smart phones. Tinder, a similar app designed for men and women looking for opposite- as well as same-sex partners, connects users with potential matches based on their proximity and whether both users “like” each other.
Simkhai said his company’s name was inspired by the action of a coffee grinder because the purpose is to bring people together and mix them.
He added that the need to connect with others is a basic one, and he designed Grindr to fill that need.
Tinder users, who log in through Facebook accounts, can access recommended matches based on sex, age range and distance from their current location, which the app measures through their smartphones. As the site gives them recommendations, they have the choice of choosing to “like” or say “nope” to each potential partner.
The smartphone app digitizes users’ first impressions into a single tagline, which appears along with the picture of the recommended user.
For instance, one male user wrote, “Who knows, we might go down in flames, but then again I might just change your name,” to potential partners, quoting the song “Could it Be” by Charlie Worsham.
“Can we lie about how we met?” another man’s tagline asks.
After two Tinder users like each other, a message box appears that enables them to chat. Then, phrases such as “Cuddling alone is no fun” and “You can tell your kids you met on Tinder” pop up on the screen, prodding users to engage each other in conversation.
Meetings on dating apps such as Grindr and Tinder are based on snap judgements. But the interactions between users might not be as unlike face-to-face interactions as they seem, according to Christine Whelan, a sociology professor at Pitt.
“On the one hand, you could say that this is a bad thing, that the focus on appearance makes the interaction superficial and suggests a meat market kind of sexual marketplace,” she said. “And yes, to me it does sort of scream of meaningless hookup culture rather than the search for an emotional relationship. But on the other hand, isn’t that kind of what you do at a party?”
When a student is interested in someone at a party, he or she might see the other person from across the room.
In this case, the student only knows about as much as one can glean from a Tinder tagline or possibly less, but makes the decision to go over and talk to the person anyway.
Tinder could not be reached for comment despite multiple requests over several weeks.
While dating apps are growing in popularity, some critics have said that online dating and smartphone apps have fueled “hookup culture,” or widespread casual sex among college-aged men and women.
But Whelan said that the phenomenon of casual sex predates smartphones and dating apps. She also said casual sex might not be quite as common as many believe it is. In her conversations with students, she found that most of them hook up in the hopes, however slim, of finding a relationship.
“I really think that we have this idea that everybody is hooking up and everybody is having lots of drunken sex, and that’s just not true,” Whelan said.
Although Whelan disputed how many students are actually seeking casual sex, the leader of a campus advocacy group said that women are more willing to engage in no-strings-attached sex.
“I think that that is a relatively new concept, though obviously women have had those feelings for a while ... Recently, it’s become much more common for people to accept that women are sexual beings,” Erin Case, the president of Campus Women’s Organization at Pitt, said.
Emily Blume, a junior English literature major, started the club Off the Hook over the summer. She said the club’s members try to offer students an alternative to what they see as an unhealthy culture of casual sex.
Both Blume and Whelan seemed to agree that for college students, there are a variety of alternatives to meeting partners over the Internet.
Blume said she believes that in the social atmosphere of college, with the frequent social interaction that parties and classes provide, students don’t need to resort to the Internet to meet potential partners.
“You have all of these opportunities to approach someone and ask them for their number,” she said. “I don’t think you need a source on the Internet to meet people.”
Whelan also said that “eligible mates” could be found around campus.
“These are going to be much more organic ways to meet somebody who you would have a connection with,” Whelan said. “The university atmosphere is just a mecca of educated, like-minded, similarly inclined people.”