by Tamora Pierce
Tamora Pierce is the author of Alanna: The First Adventure, the initial book in a young adult fantasy series. She owns a Cromemco C10 named Leviathan.
Back in the sixties, "scientific" matchmaking was synonymous with huge card-sorting computers. Today, that booming industry, highlighted by the spectacularly successful (and now defunct) Operation Match, is still with us-though in more discreet style.
Computer dating services have been around since the mid-fifties. These services featured extensive testing and interviewing to obtain accurate psychological portraits of their customers (some even developed their own elaborate tests), and as a result all but one or two nonprofit services charged high fees that ranged upwards from $350.
This was "hardly the kind of thing you'd go through for a quick date," observed one computer matchmaker. Sixty percent of the clients were college-educated males; 10 percent of these held advanced degrees and 30 percent were engineers. The greatest concentration of early computerized matchmaking service users was among over-forty divorced females and near-fifty male bachelors.
And Then Came Match
It began at a Harvard University dance in 1964, engineered by two undergraduates. Nine months later 90,000 students had gone on dates set up by Operation Match. In 1967 the company claimed 200,000 applicants for that year alone; by 1973 they would claim 500,000 customers and 125,000 marriages.
Catering to the college students of Canada and the United States, Operation Match charged $2 to $10 for the privilege of filling out a questionnaire with 110 items, ranging from religious preference and TV habits to ideas on romantic love. The computer used by the service digested, tabulated and collated the results, and each client received a list with several names, addresses and phone numbers.
One writer reasoned that Operation Match succeeded because the students were already partly compatible: all were attending institutions of higher learning, and all were participating in campus life. Also, students are not in the same boat as the traditional "lonelyhearts." Coeds might go out on a computer-arranged date just for a lark, and those who found themselves paired with "undesirables" would be less affected by their ordeal than, say, a thirty-year-old "spinster."
The people who used computer dating services prior to the advent of Operation Match were largely those who had been exposed to the day-to-day side of technology. With the vastly enlarged rolls resulting from mass-market computer dating came a greater number of complaints: "After the three dates the computer found for me, I decided to give up and let my mother find a nice boy for me after all." Or "My date, a Mr. Smith, and I had the same thing in common. We were both very fond of Mr. Smith."
With the increased popularity of computer dating, due to decreases in cost and widespread publicity, came increased public attention to its drawbacks. One problem involved "matches" that obviously weren't, between clients totally unsuited to each other in terms of height, religion, education or age. Some services were notorious for bad matches. In the early seventies the State of California investigated seven firms (actually taking one to court), while the State of New York instituted proceedings against another service. Yet the largest source of bad matches was the information supplied by customers themselves. Clients would fib or just plain lie on the computer questionnaire. Seriously: who wants to admit that he (or she) is unattractive? Add to this the fact that some people don't know what they want: the man who says he'd prefer a redhead who likes to barhop might be far happier with a brunette who likes to cook.
One problem for those services that rely on lengthy testing is that many "compatibility" tests have no scientific validation. If these tests cannot accurately measure that elusive quality called "chemistry," neither can the computer. Dealing with the psychological factors that measure compatibility, rather than with love, computers do only what any matchmaker does-they arrange for couples to meet. The difference, claim computing dating experts, is that their machines introduces couples on far more points of similarity than do the matchmakers.
The client of the eighties looks a little different from the client of the sixties and early seventies. The scales are still most heavily weighted toward professionals-doctors, attorneys, engineers-although office workers and the self-employed can now afford the lower rates charged by many computer matching services. The largest age concentration is now between twenty-five and thirty-five, with a median age of twenty-eight/ twenty-nine.
And computer dating itself has changed.
Computer matching has moved into the eighties with high-tech ease. Computer matching is now paired with video dating (for those who still want to see what they're getting "live" on video tape). Services have been set up to create matches for gays, Jews, Japanese and the overweight. And a Milwaukean has patented a device called the Love Bug-two electronic chips, one programmed to describe the client, the other his or her ideal match. The unit is worn to a hunting ground, where it emits and receives the information on the chips. When compatible singles approach each other, the devices beep louder as the distance between them decreases.
Biggest of all the new wrinkles in computer dating are computerized information networks, available to anyone with a home system and a modem. Enterprising singles have also used their electronic bulletin boards to place free "personals." The Dial-Your-Match bulletin boards (over thirty-five at last count scattered across the country, with one in France) are typical. After logging on to the bulletin board, a new user is asked a series of questions (they can get pretty explicit) and then matched with a number of corresponding singles (identified by nicknames, ID numbers, age range and percentage of compatibility). Tapping out an entry that seems intriguing will retrieve all that person's responses to the questionnaire. Should the match seem worth pursuing, an electronic billet-doux can be left in storage for later retrieval by one's intended. Responses can be exchanged as electronic mail before face-to-face meetings are finally arranged (though many a romance has blossomed, matured and died online with the partners never once laying eyes on each other). The responses can be gratifying. One woman reported eight interesting replies within a day of placing her "ad."
Again, as in the case of Operation Match, one must assume that bulletin board users already have something in common-a home computer and the knowledge with which to use it. The Dial-Your-Match bulletin boards have proven so popular that constant busy signals have to be endured before connecting with one. Demographics favor women at present: approximately 90 percent of bulletin board users are male (on the average, thirty-five-year-old college-educated professionals with a yearly income of $50,000).
The personal computer has made it possible for anyone to become an electronic matchmaker. Most of the Dial-Your-Match bulletin boards are no more than moderately powerful home computers with modems and appropriate software, maintained by self-appointed system operators. It used to be that matches were made in heaven (or not). Now they are made on-line, under the auspices of a "sysop." Till silicon do you part ...
-Let's interface, my pet.
-Not so fast, Mac. You can't access my core without a little protocol.
-But, micro mine, your software always boots me into insert mode.
-You're headed for a fatal error if you don't slow your baud rate.
-Oh, my apple, couldn't we just call an interrupt and plug in my firmware?
-That micro package?
-You've never complained about its performance before. You sound like your files have been reconfigured.
-You accusing me of basic incompatibility?
-All you need is a memory refresh. You know how you respond to my input.
-Don't keep pushing that key. You're acting like a teenage hacker.
-Would you rather I hit delete and put an end to all this?
-So you can reconnect with that old kludge of yours across town ...
-At least we never had I/O problems like this.
-None but terminal boredom.
-Look, I purged that address long ago.
-All right, I just don't want to be treated like some dedicated spreadsheet.
-That's the farthest thing from my read/write head.
-Then stop reaching for control all the time. I don't care for that routine of yours.
-I keep trying to open a window to you.
-Why don't you find out my communication needs?
-All I get is stop bits and no parity.
-So go ahead and disconnect.
-But we've spent so much time on-line.
-Then you'd better sort things out real fast.
-I'm sorry. I didn't mean to overload your circuits.
-I guess I'm sorry, too. Garbage in/garbage out.
-Yeah, garbage in/garbage out ...
-Let's interface, you dynamic ram.
STEVEN ARCHER, computer novelist
|WITH THIS COMPUTER ...
The computer is not without compassion. For the Apple II, Ron Jaenisch of the Universal Life Church in Sunnyvale, California, designed a program with which he has performed marriage ceremonies several times since Valentine's Day 1981, when Richard and Debbie became the first couple merged by "Reverend Apple's" files. (A second Apple was used for the background music, although not too many people liked the idea.)
On Valentine's Day 1983 George Stickles and Debbie Fuhrman of Grand Prairie, Texas, showed their own style when they had a transcontinental wedding performed by the Reverend Tim Payton, on call twenty-four hours a day via CompuServe's CB Channel 14. Letting their fingers do the talking, they vectored their vows on-line so anyone could witness their wedding words at home.
Impersonal? Perhaps. But today, with many alternatives to the traditional marriage ceremony, this is but another one. But, pray tell, does the computer throw chips rather than rice?
CHARLES P. RUBENSTEIN
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