All Your Internet Social Networking Is Killing Offline Social Groups

If the march toward equality is the reason social networking site called it quits on gay men, then what happens if we start blaming the rise of online social networking for the fall of offline gay social networks? Because that’s what the Times would have us believe is the reason events like International Bear Rendezvous can no longer survive.

International Bear Rendezvous ended after 17 years. Men’s Associated Exchange ended in 2009 after 21 years. Those groups, like others, blame the rise of the Internet for the fall of their groups. Because we’re all doing our socializing online now, and we don’t need no stinkin’ membership dues. Or something.

Except then there are the crop of social networks that encourage offline meeting. Like Foursquare. Or, yes, even Grindr. And perhaps unlike other subsets of gays, the bears have a whole niche dedicated just to them.

New technologies have usurped that role, sometimes serving remarkably narrow niches. The bear community, for example, has Scruff, an iPhone application that instantly locates others nearby, using GPS. There is also the new Web-based start-up Bearbook, which works like Facebook except that a membership fee allows bears to see each other, uh, bare.

Of course the deterioration of offline social clubs because of the Internet’s possibilities isn’t unique to the gays. But because our community embraced the Internet before so many others — I’m talking about you, AOL chat rooms — because it was the only place for us to talk to others like us, it is interesting to see this very technology now blamed for bringing down the offline networks we’ve built up.