iPhone app creates a real-life gaydar

A new smartphone application pinpoints men like radar for those looking for “Mr. Right or Mr. Tonight.” Josh Fernandez thinks there’s a little more to it.

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COLIN KERRIGAN TTN

Finding someone worth dating is a complex process. Before computers and the Internet capitalized on the online dating scene, a regular Joe or Jane found someone in a classroom, at work, at a bar, club et cetera. Those Joes and Janes would then have to muster up the courage to talk to people to whom they were attracted, or wait for said attractive people to do so themselves.

As a result of mainstream societal views on everything LGBTQ, members of this community did not have the same luxuries as their straight counterparts. A man approaching another man to say “Hey, you seem cool. Let’s grab coffee sometime,” could’ve risked his dignity and safety because mistaking a straight man as gay is an unfortunate insult – not to mention it makes for a very awkward, otherwise avoidable situation.

Individuals looking for a same-sex romance or casual sex had to rely on bathhouses, bars, mutual friends or establishments that catered specifically to LGBTQ persons. As society became more progressive and the Internet expanded, human interaction via chat rooms, instant messaging and dating sites, gay folk had a new way to meet potential dates and sex partners.

With Web sites like gay.com, match.com and OKCupid, there are a plethora of outlets and unlimited options available in the search for love. A lonely gay man or lesbian couldn’t possibly ask for more, right?

Apparently they can. While having a casual texting chat with a friend several weekends ago, I learned about an intriguing, albeit creepy, mobile application called Grindr. The site for the app reads “whether he’s Mr. Right or Mr. Tonight, your man is hanging out on Grindr, a killer location-based social networking tool for the iPhone or iPod Touch.” The app uses GPS technology to locate other gay or bisexual men within close proximity.

The application caught my interest, and before I knew it, a helpful female friend downloaded the app for her iPhone so we could check out the hype. Minutes after the app downloaded, my friend and I opened it and played around until we experienced the unsettling power of the mobile hook-up app: Several squares with pictures of men, their names and the calculated distance they were from where we stood.

As technology advances and gives society technology like the iPhone and BlackBerry, apps for enhanced use are inevitable. As a “CrackBerry” addict myself, living without applications for Twitter, Pandora and Facebook is unfathomable. But an app like Grindr – exclusively for gay males with iPhones – doesn’t sit well with me.

Face-to-face interaction when asking a potential honey on a date is nerve-wracking, so online dating as an alternative is completely understandable. I’ve gone on dates via OKCupid, and while most were unpleasant or outright unnerving, I’m grateful for the experiences because my heart would sink to my stomach if I had to ask someone out in person. Many of my peers, as well as other college-age students, resort to this mode of date finding because it takes the edge off of the stomach-wrenching humiliation felt by a rejection.

While many who feel this way, including myself, need to eventually learn to suck it up and take a risk, online dating provides a much-needed temporary Band-Aid.

In a world that isn’t always fostering toward the LGBTQ community, having as many ways as possible to find Mr. or Ms. Right (or Mr. or Ms. Just Tonight) is of the utmost importance, and online dating is particularly successful for gay couples. In a recent article about meeting significant others, USA Today reported on a survey that polled 474 gay and lesbian couples, where among those who met two years prior to the conduction of the survey, 61 percent of gay and lesbian couples met online, whereas only 23 percent of heterosexual couples met this way.

Online dating and social networking sites can help an already scary process. But to take a dating site for the mobile Web and attach what is essentially a tracking device is dangerous on so many levels.

This ability of Grindr also takes away from the fun of getting to know someone. By knowing that another Grindr user is 12 feet away, Grindr not only makes stalking creepier by tenfold, but also rushes the process. Sometimes, it’s nice to take your time getting to know your date online before you see him face-to-face.

BlackBerrys and iPhones should be used to enhance human contact, as well as for entertainment and information obtaining purposes. Being able to see a hilarious tweet from a friend in a matter of minutes, or listen to a favorite station on Pandora is what makes living in our constantly changing world fun and exciting.

Grindr is one aspect of our technology-heavy society that does the opposite.

Josh Fernandez can be reached at josh@temple.edu.

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