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Dating trend : The principle of closeness

When Joel Simkhai goes to his office, he sells sex. Or as he puts it: He brings people together. By offering them paid subscriptions or advertising. For Grindr. Do not you know? Then you are not gay. Nevertheless, the company - the name stands for a smartphone application - influences the world you live in or that of your children and grandchildren. In the past five years, dating has changed thanks to Grindr. People no longer only meet in cafes, bars or on cruise ships, they don't just look for partners on the Internet, they suddenly find other singles with their smartphones.

Joel Simkhai brought gays together through Grindr, mostly for sex. Heterosexuals are now imitating them with the Tinder app. Half of America and Germany are talking about it. Have you ever? Do you want The US talk show host Conan O’Brien tried Tinder for his show in front of the camera in July. It didn't lead to a date, but since then the world has known app dating. "It's a bit like Grindr," he explained to his viewers, as if everyone knew how it works on Grindr.

The principle is simple: open the app, look at photos of strangers, write short messages to them, arrange meetings. LTR? NSA? DTF? These are not secret services, but established dating abbreviations: Long Term Relationship, No Strings Attached (without further obligations), Down To Fuck (er, sex?).

This type of encounter was invented by Joel Simkhai. The American with Israeli roots invented the first dating app based on GPS data five years ago. It does not sort possible partners according to common interests, as partner exchanges do, but rather goes according to who is currently in the vicinity. A simple idea to just see who is available around the corner: 120 meters away? Well. 1.2 kilometers? Oh no, too far.

Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. Grindr sits in a four-story glass building, painted red on the sides. On the left a tree nursery, on the right an organic café, opposite a hotel that looks so shabby that it could also be the setting for a horror film. Behind the front door of the open-plan office on the first floor, Office 101, a dozen books are nestled together. They are classics of gay literature, "Closed Circle" by Gore Vidal, "A Single Man" by Christopher Isherwood. Almost 30 employees sit at computers or meet in conference rooms called Castro or West End - allusions to gay neighborhoods around the world. The founder usually sits in a glass-enclosed office to the right of the mini-shelf. Above his office is "0 feet away" - a reference to the principle of closeness on which Grindr bases his success.

In fact, Joel Simkhai is thousands of kilometers away. The 37-year-old has traveled to London for a business meeting. He then calls via Skype. The internet is working badly for him at the moment, a bit irritating for a company that depends on wireless connections. The picture is frozen, then you can't hear Joel Simkhai, maybe that's why the Grindr founder looks a bit uncomfortable. Short black hair, big eyes, a haunted look.

“I've always asked myself who is like me in my environment,” says Joel Simkhai, explaining his impulse to explain why he came up with Grindr. "Who is gay in my area? Who would like to meet a man? ”A guy could crouch ten meters behind the office wall, Joel Simkhai wouldn't see him, thanks to Grindr he can now locate him. As if on a presentation plate, the app shows him the men who are in the immediate vicinity of the user.

Simkhai never lived the classic idea of ​​“boy meets boy in a bar”. As a teenager in a small town in New York State, he had a couple of girlfriends, so it didn't really work. He realizes he's different. Fortunately for him, a new invention was just taking over private households in the late 1990s: the Internet. When he was 18, he logged into a gay chat room on AOL Online for the first time, adopted an alias name, Dolceguy76 (“because I was in Italy the year before”), and met gays. A walk, a coffee, sex, anything is possible. “I liked this anonymity,” says Joel Simkhai.

The phenomenon is not a gay one. Straight people are also starting to date through chat rooms. The Hollywood romance "E-Mail für dich" sets a cinematic monument to the 1998. Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks find each other via virtual flirting, just as Joel Simkhai met his first friends online. "What has always frustrated me: With the online services, it never played a role where someone was." It happens that he gets on well with a man - and only realizes at question 16 that he lives 600 kilometers away.

In the noughties, the first online platforms appeared that were already organized by city. It is now possible to upload photos, but the technical quality increases the personal demands (a message could read: “Are you between 1.80 meters and 1.85 meters, well trained, blonde and not a pain in the ass?”). The computer becomes an intermediary. According to a 2012 study by Stanford University, people with internet access are more likely to find a partner than people without.

Joel Simkhai now works for a New York company that sells magazine subscriptions online. He lives online, works online, but is offline on the street. That will change in July 2008 with the iPhone 3G - the first smartphone to use GPS data and offer third-party apps. Joel Simkhai ponders his dream, invests $ 5,000, hires programmers, and develops Grindr as a free app. It will hit the market in March 2009 - now from Los Angeles.

One man has now become five million users per month worldwide. Only on the South Sea islands of Nauru and Tuvalu no one has a Grindr profile; in 192 other states men chat with each other, even where homosexuality is forbidden, such as in Uganda, Sri Lanka or the Emirates. 177,000 men are registered in Germany, 58,000 of them in Berlin. Grindr has most users in London, with almost 264,000 men active there. In Brazil, the number of users increased by 31 percent during the World Cup. Probably not because they only exchanged predictions of results. The "Vanity Fair" writes about the phenomenon: "Welcome to the largest and most terrifying gay bar in the world".

Simkhai has heard the "compliment" many times. Posting a photo on Grindr means showing yourself without a t-shirt and of course with a tip-top upper body, the head is optional. It is the capitalist window display principle applied to dating: we take our skin to the market. "Critics accuse us of reducing people to physical attributes," says Simkhai. "I have no problem with that. We are visual beings, men more than women. We make decisions about whether we find someone attractive, but based on whether he or she appeals to us physically. Nobody thinks: Oh, what a great job this guy has! No, the first reaction is, man, does he look good. "

Joel Simkhai has his app open all the time. If he receives a message, his smartphone hums briefly. The profile says 1.68 meters, 68 kilos, white. Is he in a relationship? He doesn't want to reveal. Why doesn't he write anything about himself? “What is a text doing there?” The man is a visual being.

For a long time, casual meetings via smartphones were a privilege of gays. With Scruff (for bearded guys) or Mister (for older people) they have even developed apps that specialize in subgroups. Heterosexuals watched with disgust or envy. Until Tinder was founded in 2012. This is where women and men come together - albeit less directly. On Grindr, users can write to anyone else; on Tinder, the potential partner must first agree so that they can receive messages. At Grindr, millions of photos are sent back and forth in private chats, and a nude picture is standard. Tinder does not (yet) allow you to include photos in the messages. The first date should still have a bit of romance after all. "Too slow," thinks Joel Simkhai. He believes that messages are sometimes not answered for days later for men. “They want it in real time.” DTF, NSA, now, here. Sex. In other words: "Connecting people with one another."

Love can grow from three letters. Quite a few couples get to know each other via Grindr or Tinder, maybe just faster and more directly. There are fewer bouquets at the beginning and more checklists ("size? Age? Hair color?"). Suddenly there are more options - and more responsibility. Cheating on your partner has never been easier. "It's not the fault of the technology," says Joel Simkhai, "it's the fault of the people and how they use the technology." Is there someone around to talk to about it?

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