By JUSTIN JONES
[anonymous]: hi cutie.
[justin]: hey there.
[anonymous]: ure really cute. wanna come over?
[justin]: sry, i dont really hookup.
[Deleted Message]: Unfortunately a user blocked you before you had the opportunity to read the message they sent you.
Ah, the familiar Grindr tri-tone. It precedes the most profound questions, like “what r u into?” and “u clean?”—questions unsuitable for anything but the blind safety of a phone app, yet somehow better conceived than that amateurish “a/s/l?” crap of yesterday.
Welcome to Web X.O, Sexualized Social Media, where we move our shyness and introversion beyond the mere social and into the shadowy corners of our darkest fantasies.
Far from being a new techno trend, hearing a tri-tone and thinking “SEX!” started for some of us in the infancy of popularized cyberspace with, as I recall, AOL 3.0. It was that second, “fun” screen-name you hid from your family and friends which you used for plundering the corridors of the Man4Man chat rooms. Through this Secret Identity, you explored a side of yourself that you kept otherwise hidden beside your bed: inside a bottle of Jergens, with some spit for extra support.
“You’ve Got Mail,” the invisible AOL man acknowledged. And you knew what it was: an offer to enlarge your penis, or a dirty picture from someone called “RichardStroker78.” And as you played in your mailbox, the AOL tri-tone rang and an Instant Message commanded your attention with something shocking (were it to be said out loud), but because it was accompanied by that chipper little ring, it felt okay.
Here we played our dirty games behind virtual walls, separated by hundreds of miles and the notion that actually meeting someone from the Internet was NOT alright. The Internet harbored murderers, after all: best not to actually meet them. Chatting with them and piquing their interest in obscene and extreme ways was a much safer bet.
Years later, Web 2.0 strolled in, bringing with it a new dimension of faceless interaction: this time, with our REAL friends, and with people we REALLY might want to meet. We were growing up, and our introversion matured.
The coming-of-age of the sexual Web took our conversations to a new level (much to the disappointment of our formerly sex-centric avatars). This passage introduced us to a terrifying new species: Gays Who Don’t Use Social Media to Hook Up. Cue the scary music.
“Never fear!” said the software developers. “We’ll carve out a place where the sexually-starved can go to get their fill.” Voila! Grindr and its offspring were born.
But with the ubiquity of these apps came a tidal wave of those OTHER conversations on Grindr, the ones that drove people to download the beast in the first place. Profiles cropped up scrawled with descriptions like “No Hookups” and “Looking for LTR.”
Which brings us to now. We live in a world where nomadic cyber-sexuals will always find their niche, and in which the “friends only” crowd will follow. It’s polarizing. I hear Grindarians complaining all the time about those pesky profiles. “It’s a hook-up app,” they complain: “Go to Facebook if you want friends.”
I happen to be one of the “friends-only” members and in our defense it’s really just because we like teasing you. That or maybe— just maybe—it’s okay to have both.Justin Jones is a Minneapolis-based writer. Facebook.com/JustinJonesWriter