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Feminist Dating App Siren Is Shutting Down on Friday

The biggest hurdle Siren faces is getting enough money and users to go viral. With only one photo for the profile picture, the app de-emphasizes the visual, in favor of wit and intelligence. Still, Lee and Hess are betting that men are less shallow and want more repartee. And they know that women want a little more flirtation than crude references to buttcheeks.

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See our Commenting FAQ. But that huge audience brings a new level of risk. CNN didn't mention that Lee is an artist, or that Siren is an art project—Lee was wearing her CEO drag—but instead focused on Siren's reversal of the traditional role of females waiting to be seen and invited to sex by males. The story got 15 comments.

Siren dating app lets women call the shots

While those 15 comments may not be a sample of the population, their overwhelming hostility was notable. Men won't use this app and the user base will turn into a lonely, angry clam fest.


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If in the world that's broader than Seattle and broader than art, female consent is dismissable snark, and women are fishy liars and prey who deserve to be hunted, then perhaps Lee is onto something. But there are still more layers of criticism waiting for Lee. I called Eric Fredericksen, former director of the widely respected contemporary art space Western Bridge and now manager of the high-profile public art coming to the restored Seattle waterfront, to ask what he thinks of Siren.

He was hesitant, like several artists I asked. There was this conversation years ago between [artist] Roy McMakin and [curator] Michael Darling where they came up with this formulation that the difference between an artist and a designer is that a designer solves problems and an artist creates them, and I do still have an attachment to that idea. The business world is "ruthless but clear," Lee says.

She finds it more supportive than the art world.

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The gatekeepers become prophets of culture, taste, and conversation You begin to hear yourself resent others, and you feel impoverished, even if not financially, then certainly as a citizen that often feels like it has no real function except to be at the whim of some courtly upper class. Dylan Neuwirth, another Seattle artist who uses online media in his work, agrees with Lee and loves Siren. I don't know what could be more artistic. As a young man, Koons quit his job on Wall Street, became an artist, and founded a new empire of manufactured expensive commodities—his artworks.

The way Koons capitalized on the "greed is good" era, Lee is reflecting on the worship of the startup and tech entrepreneur.

But Siren is ultimately designed to facilitate satisfying connection, not excess. If it does become lucrative, it probably doesn't need an artist at the helm and it would probably make the most sense, Lee says, for her to step aside and move on to her next project. Lee also has a different path than Koons or Hirst or Murakami, both by choice and not.

She's a Korean American feminist woman artist working online, not an alpha male playing within the small world of art. Siren may be as far outside the art world as Lee has gone, but it's also part of yet another art lineage, going back at least to , of "telematic" art, or art that conjoins computers and communication. Just like Contact was—that dumbphone-enabled wooden box from When you opened the lid, you saw a sort of old-fashioned circuit board inside.

There were three rows of little glass tubes, each holding a filament of graphite, the kind you'd see in a mechanical pencil. Lee gave you the box's phone number, then invited you to call or text it.

When you did, a digital system hidden beneath the grid of glass tubes triggered a jolt of electricity that shot through the pencil lead. The lead turned a bright, burning red, just for a moment, then cooled and sent up a puff of smoke as your phone received a text in return. It said, "We've made a connection. In the days that followed, Contact would send you nice little notes. You'd have fun trying to imagine the best way to write to a machine, and you'd wonder how it would respond, what it could say and not say. Inevitably, you grew busy, or tired of the exercise, and you would neglect it.

It had terrible boundaries, it turned out. The messages became hostile. If you engaged at all, it would get overly excited and start over. She directed its design and function with a team of assistants, and now it's built by users and reshaped by Lee as she watches and responds to feedback.

It's like marble-sculpting, she says, where she messes with it, then steps away to assess, then goes back in again. You might also consider it a performance, or public art, or architecture, and it fits right in with "social practice" art, where artists behave as directors who create situations where people interact under set conditions. In the sense that it is ongoing and open, Siren is like a "happening," an art term coined in the mids to indicate art events that are similar to performances but usually nonlinear and improvisational, and blur the lines between the work of art and the viewer by allowing the viewer to use and alter the art.

Another "happening"-like mobile app by an artist is Somebody by multimedia maker Miranda July. On Somebody which, like Siren, is free , you write a message you want delivered to a friend, and the app finds a stranger in your area to deliver your message to your friend in person. July is legendary at instigating awkward situations, and Somebody is another form of her open-ended anthropology.