Apps changing the way we greet future

Last updated 14:04 17/10/2011
PLEASED TO MEET YOU: Location-based social networking apps seem to be changing the course of human etiquette.

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Technology has almost done away with handwritten letters, tollbooth collectors and telephone operators. And, as location-based social networking apps become more popular, it's possible it may also do away with the handshake.

Geolocation mobile phone applications, programs that use a phone's GPS to allow its user to locate and meet strangers in their vicinity, are revolutionising the way people meet. Not only do they automate the process of finding friends, they're also changing the places we find them.

"It's giving us eyes where we didn't have eyes before," said Mark Pesce, a digital cultures academic who specialises in the "hyperconnected" future.

"I can look into a room and know nothing about that room, but if I have Blendr [a social networking app], it's like X-ray vision. I can see all the people who are up for meeting someone new, all the people who went to a school near me, all the people who speak French."

In three years, Grindr, which allows gay men to find other gay men, usually for the purpose of casual sex, has amassed more than 2.8 million users in 192 countries and sparked a sexual revolution in the gay community. Sydney is its fourth most popular city, with 41,500 users.

Similar apps for those with varied interests, such as Blendr, Roamz and Foursquare, are less popular, but ABI Research estimates the market will be worth US$3.3 billion globally by 2013.

James Brechney, 28, a prolific user of Blendr, Grindr and Foursquare, usually will find people who live near him in Surry Hills, strike up an online friendship and then meet offline.

"I just really enjoy meeting new people," he said. "The magic is the GPS, geography is the commonality. If you want a friendship, it's great for them to be in the same suburb as you."

While critics lament the next generation's inability to make friends without a computer screen, Joel Simkhai, the American creator of Blendr and Grindr, thinks that in five years we may have twice as many friends because of his apps.

"I don't think a hello and a handshake will become redundant. We come before that, so now it's easier to initiate the conversation and then go say hello," he said. "In terms of breaking the ice, it goes a long way."

Users have proved willing to accept the danger of people misrepresenting themselves in order to find friends in a society that has become busier, less sociable and, according to

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Mr Brechney, "more boring".

"I honestly think you get a richer experience talking about your life and typing away on your phone than you would in a loud club," he said. "The downside is that you have a lot of churn in your life with friends. It can become a bit of an eBay for love."

- Sydney Morning Herald


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