[-empyre-] Compulsion and gay hook-up apps

Mathew Gagne mathew.gagne at mail.utoronto.ca
Tue Oct 20 00:36:17 AEDT 2015

My PhD research broadly focuses on the impacts of gay hook-up technologies (Grindr, Scruff, Hornet, Growlr, Tinder, etc) among queer men in Beirut. However, for the purpose of my contribution, I want to think about compulsion from the general experience of using these apps. I often hear two opinions of these apps: they create many emotional highs and lows that come with trying to connect with hundreds of possible lovers (disappointment, frustration, haplessness, joy, excitement, constant arousal); and second, their addictiveness. In fact, it is often amidst exacerbation with these emotional experiences that users express their desire, but inability, to stop using these apps. There is a need to see who is online, if there are new messages, and men waiting for responses.

Is such compulsion due to the interface's design that constantly refreshes profiles, not to mention the arousal from seemingly endless salacious images and words? Or, is it an effect of the social experience of constant chatter, or the individual desire for something to happen, playing with the possible, and curious of the unknown? Or, is it the fear of missing out (#FOMO), like hot guys who may only be passing through our area, never to be seen online again? I want to suggest that the experience of compulsion with these apps is part of a context of neoliberal capitalism that has shaped the technological, social, and subjective conditions of user experiences. To put it crudely, as part of capitalism, there apps have to be compulsive to keep user paying, thereby obviating a final destination in one's intimate life (commonly expressed in the apps as "looking for the reason to stop using these apps). These apps turn desire, sex, pleasure and possibility into consumable products. In the context of neoliberal capitalism's interest in affective and intimate life, these apps are part of it's intimate machinery that constantly expands and contracts desires, demanding that desire, sex and bodily energies are deployed within cycles of excitation-production-consumption-expulsion-excitation-reproduction-consumption-expulsion.  (This is similar to Preciado's (2103) pornographic circuit of excitation-capital-frustration-excitation-capital). Their compulsive demands are configured at the intersections of the technological, capitalist (production), social, and desiring plateaus. 

The interface contains information about desires and possible sex that is constantly updated to proffer new men, creating the desire to know the unknown of sex and men and technology. The interface visually fragments and orders information about bodies, sex, and pleasures into discrete thumbnails and categories, thereby turning  sex and desire into an expandable yet bounded set of data about users.  Making bodies and sex into discrete units of information gives users the ability to select and consume them as if they were picking over and scrutinizing the ingredients of the world’s best dish. But, often, the dish itself is not the greatest, but rather the promise of the freshness and quality of its ingredients that lend the dish its allure and infamy. Basically, a shopping list. Such analogies involve other forms of capitalist labour: principles of efficiency in finding sexual pleasure (based on confirming mutual attraction and compatibility from the information given socially between user from the minimal information they share) and the goal of the ideal (in this case, a sex partner, and sexual experience). 

Within these affordances, connections are made and sexual possibilities are explored. These apps provide an interface of hundreds of men, stimulating hundreds of sexual fantasies of hundreds of possible sexual encounters. Sometimes a bit of sexy talk and image exchange is all one need to get off and move on. But, there is still a need for more: to see more, chat more, to desire more, to fantasize more, to know more, to get more validation, because the attention we got from the guy yesterday has passed, and we are let down from the high of pleasure and attention. We need to reproduce that exact feeling, our intimate lives begin to take on a recognizable form of production and reproduction. Expand and expel. Desire is no longer surprising. Oh look, another guy with a hot body that's contorted in just the right angle in his pic to accentuate the ridge between his well formed side-pec and his back.. I WANT HIM. I must message him and wait for his response until he doesnt, and I move one to the next, new, hot profile. My desire must expand and expend, and repeat. I must think about possibilities, but possibilities only in the parameters of the technologies and their social conventions. My desire feels limitless, except for the bounds that make me only want to same bodies, physical attributes, stats, and terse self descriptions (because talking too much about your likes and dislikes in a profile is not MASC enough). Maybe one day, I shall stumble upon ‘the one’ to capture my heart (only after we have sex, of course), but I doubt I’ll stop wanting to log in, and engage with images, stats, and sexy talk to get me aroused, to spark my desires while leaving them unfulfilled. 

The interface creates expansive fields of fantastical-social possibilities that stretches desire out, yet binds them by the techno-social conditions that take place, like conventions for chatting or media ideologies of sex and sociality. This creates a productive tension between what users comes to see as a horizon of unknown sexual and intimate possibilities that they attempt to control in the pursuit of their desires which are already always bounded by the interface's arrangements and processing of information. Possibilities are partly negotiated by the information within profiles, that of consuming images of bodies, and categories of physical traits, and textual description of sex, pleasure and the desires of others. 

As Patrick noted in an earlier post, the interface is both ordered and chaotic, between a clean interface seeped in an overwhelming sense of chaotic sexual-social possibilities, an excess of consumable bodies, pleasure, desires, and fantasies. Desire flows then stops on a fixation, a profile so enticing, then recommences and stops. We use it not to serve a need or desire, but rather to expand our fields of desire, our fantasy play, where all we need it perpetuate an imaginative horizon that is already bound by the technology for the kinds of sex, pleasures, bodies, and acts it facilitates. Under the effects of neoliberal capitalism's intimate machinery, our need is to produce and reproduce this horizon that has been generated at the social-technological processes. In fact, the opposite of compulsion in the case of these apps it not controlled, rational usage towards goal fulfillment, but cessation. But stopping means no more seemingly endless horizon of pleasures and sex. it is stasis and the end of production. To stop using these apps would be to give up the on all fantasies and possibilities, and to reside where desire and energy is no longer produced and deployed as social action, and technological data. To stop the apps might mean that we have given up on that goal, or have settled from someone less than the amorphous ephemeral ideal we have constructed, or that has been sold to us by apps and other machines in capitalism intimate operations. 

Capitalism works to rule, order, and control the excessive, to incorporate unregulated sex and pleasure into its realm. As a form of subjectivity, we are part of this labour, attempting to organize the excess of our intimate lives at the level of compulsion, constantly bringing us back so as to get reign on our urges and desires. As Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval argue, the neoliberal subject is individual-as-enterprise, who must manage, control, order, and strategize life according to desires. The apparatus of neoliberal subjectivity is the apparatus of performance and pleasure, whose principle is excess and self-transcendence. The subject, they say, is to produce and enjoy ever more , connecting the subject to the surplus enjoyment that has become systemic. The object of the apparatus is life, they say. In the case of these apps, it is the management and control over intimate life that becomes the goal. As part of the intimate material of neoliberal capitalism, these apps manage and control the (re)production of what Paul Preciado calls, Potentia gaudendi*, or orgasmic force, which is the energies and strength of the body's excitation. This is the force that pharmacopornographic capitalism attempts to exploit and put to work, through the need to produce and reproduce the body's affectations through drugs, pornography, and technology. 

Compulsion with these apps is not necessarily the fulfillment of desire and sex, but the very production and management of them. Compulsion is, Patrick notes of Natasha Shüll's argument, a postponement of satisfaction in order to (re)produce the pleasures, desires and bodily energies that impact intimate life. Compulsion is promoted and deployed by neoliberalism capitalism's intimate machinery as a means of producing and managing the bodily and affective energies that, as Preciado says, turns the subject into an "inexhaustible supply of planetary ejeculation that can be transformed into abstraction and digital data - into capital" (p. 46). To end, I wanted to think about compulsion as an experience of technology within a broader context of neoliberal capitalism, whereby these apps serve as a technological spaces whose affordances create fields of information and sociality designed to produce, bound, expand, and expel desire, sex, and bodily energy in a cycle of capitalism's intimate machinery of social and subjective relations. 

Dardot, Pierre, and Christian Laval. The New Way of the World: On Neoliberal Society. Verso, 2014.
Preciado, Paul B. Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2013.

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