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Love at First Click

Love-at-first-click-book-coverO Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou internet Romeo? Buckle in and hang on to your hats, folks, we’re about to take a ride through the exciting, data-driven world of online dating. If you don’t agree that something data-driven can be exciting, then we probably wouldn’t be a good match. Swipe left.

You may have heard the phrases “swipe left” or “swipe right” bandied about in recent conversations or on weeknight sitcoms. These phrases have become part of our modern lexicon thanks to “swiping apps” where you swipe right to “like” a photo, or swipe left to “dislike” a photo. One of the earliest swiping apps was Tinder, a location-based dating service that launched in 2012 and that is still going strong today. When you open the app, you only see potential  matches within a certain distance of your location who are also using Tinder, and all you see are a person’s photo and some brief bio information.  Everyone swipes left or right through their potential matches, and when you and Mr./Ms. Dreamboat both swipe right, demonstrating interest, the app lets you start chatting. Location-based  efficiency of meeting someone is Tinder’s big strength, and therefore the app has a reputation as a “hook-up” app, yet many people who meet on Tinder end up in long-term relationships or even marriage.

So, online dating has been around since 2012? Nope! After a little digging, I was surprised to learn that online dating has mid-century roots. According to Dan Slater in his book, Love in the Time of Algorithms, college professors gave out punch card questionnaires, which were then fed through early IBM computers to help facilitate romantic matches based on questionnaire compatibility. Each new decade saw the dating scene keeping step with advances in technology, starting with early computers in the 1950s and 1960s, video cameras in the 1970s, bulletin board systems in the 1980s, the Internet in the 1990s, and smartphones in the first decade of the new millennium.

Remember the movie You’ve Got Mail starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks? Today we might chuckle at the thought of AOL email being cutting edge dating technology, but this 1998 film helped normalize the idea of online dating. Each new step in dating technology was met with societal stigma and concern; growing up I remember watching scare-monger episodes of Dateline and 20/20 warning against the dangers of meeting strangers on the Internet, and there’s been a persistent idea that the people who use online dating services must be desperate. According to Dan Slater though, as of 2010, one-third of adult singles in the United States – that’s about 30 million singles – had an online dating profile. As of April 2017, reports that the Match Group had 3.44 million paid subscribers in North America. The Match Group consists of platforms such as (the leading dating website in the United States), OkCupid, Tinder, PlentyofFish, and others. Suffice it to say, there are a heck of a lot of people using technology to meet.

These are only a handful of the apps and services available, and each seems to cater to a different group or audience. Match and eHarmony are paid websites that use algorithms and lengthy questionnaires to match you with other users, and many people using these services are explicitly seeking long-term romantic relationships and potentially marriage. Other services are intended to help users find other fun people in their area, and still others are used to find hook-ups. Some websites and apps seek to serve people with very specific interests, such as ChristianMingle and FarmersOnly.

Technology isn’t everything though, and algorithms can be fooled. Answering the questionnaire in ways that will make you more likely to be matched with more people can be fairly simple, and it’s not uncommon for people to try to game the system, as discussed by Amy Webb in Data, A Love Story. And what happens when you finally decide to meet IRL, or in real life? Laurie Davis has some suggestions in the book Love @ First Click, as do Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider in Not Your Mother’s Rules.

If you’d like an entertaining read on the subject of dating in today’s technological world, pick up a copy of I Love You, Nice to Meet You by Lori Gottlieb and Kevin Bleyer, or I Love You, Let’s Meet by Virginia Vitzthum. Popular comedian Aziz Ansari weighs in with the book Modern Romance.

I’ve just thrown a lot of data at you, but then again I did warn you at the top of the column. What’s been my personal experience so far? Honestly, pretty good! My intent is to meet fun people and not take any of this too seriously, and with that relaxed view online dating has been exciting and enjoyable. Many people find they connect with people they wouldn’t normally run into through serendipity, but that they would be interested in getting to know if they had met through more traditional means. This has also been my experience. So, if you’re on the fence, I say give online dating a try! Start with a fun, free app like Coffee Meets Bagel, and see where it goes.

Liz Reed is an Adult and Information Services Librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood, Massachusetts. Read Liz’s column in the May 24, 2018 issue of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

Lydia Sampson

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