Computer Love: Replicating Social Order Through Early Computer Dating Systems - Ada New Media
"On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog" is an adage and meme about Internet anonymity which began as a cartoon caption by Peter Steiner and published by The New Yorker on July 5, The cartoon features two dogs: one sitting on a chair in front of a computer, Peter Steiner, a cartoonist and contributor to The New Yorker since Even more compelling was the fact that a computer user could create a new, in a July New Yorker drawing of two dogs at a computer with the caption “On In form, ifnotin content, online dating ads were not significantly different from. 1. Be a Creature Unlike Any Other versus Be Boring and Stay Inside Watching “ Queer Eye”. 2. Don't Stare at Men or Talk Too Much versus.
The president and vice-president of Operation Match—incorporated under the name Compatibility Research Corporation—apparently saw no irony in wanting to keep women undergraduates banned from most communal and social spaces at Harvard while developing a computerized system to help themselves and other young men find women to date. Such services did not simply encourage the pairing up of men and women, they also centralized control over matchmaking in the hands of the mostly straight, white, and privileged young men who designed the systems.
They determined the parameters of what made a good date and who should be matched with whom. These young bachelors were anything but impartial: The topics and emphases of the questions they posed to users were filtered through their own particular worldview and priorities, both as businessmen and as potential users of the system.
A thinly-veiled form of misogyny lurked under the design of their system and their business model: Their service implicitly positioned women as a product, and assumed that men were the users around whose needs the service should be built.
News media lauded it as an example of American progressiveness, grounded in the ingenuity of young, male technologists. But computerized dating, so often imagined to be a uniquely American invention, had been used in European countries for some time. Across the Atlantic, matchmaking services used computers to arrange special mixers for participants, rather than matching them up one-on-one.
In their Cambridge office headquarters they employed three women to do the work of data processing and accounting and bought time on an Avco computer to collate responses. The Role of Gender, Class, and Nationality Across the Atlantic, British women were early adopters of computer dating—both as users and proprietors. The first computer dating company that attained commercial success in Britain was run by a woman.
It was not only the first example of computerized dating in Britain, it also preceded Operation Match by a year.
Ball already ran a marriage bureau and escort service—women required male escorts in order to attend most nighttime functions; the service was not sexual—so the leap to computer dating seemed logical. She drew on the client base of her marriage bureau business to start the computer dating service, initially running both side by side. Her computerized dating company, the St. James Computer Dating Service, did its first computer run to pair up clients in and incorporated the following year under a new name after merging with another woman-run marriage bureau to expand its user base and make better matches.
Inthe newly merged companies rebranded themselves as Computer Dating Services Ltd. The heyday of computer dating occurred during a period when British women were still largely reliant on their relationships with men for their economic stability. In the s, British women were not afforded the legal protection of equal pay a national equal pay act did not come into effect until the mid sand they were—like their American peers—concentrated into sections of the labor force that did not allow them to make nearly as much money or have as many career prospects as men.
Women were also not able to get a mortgage without a male relative to co-sign even if they qualified for a loan. Marriage was an economic necessity for many women. Fewer than twenty years had elapsed since the change in the law that had barred women from working while married in the Civil Service.
On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog
The government had failed to remove their formal marriage bar until after World War II, when the main clerical union vociferously supported the measure because its membership was now majority women. The first evidence of Com-Pat advertising in the Times of London appears in the August 22, issue, but—for reasons that will be discussed below—this is not an accurate indication of its earliest date of operation.
Ball was a thirty-something who kept her marital status private, and her business partner Marjorie Smith was in her sixties with an adult daughter who also worked at the bureau. Their service had only clients at the outset, and catered to a slightly older crowd, including people who had been divorced or widowed. It seemed to take its role as a matchmaking intermediary somewhat more seriously than services targeting younger demographics, like Operation Match.
Ads for the service read: Many newspapers and magazines would not sell advertising space to either marriage bureaus or computer dating firms on the assumption that these businesses were fronts for immoral or illegal activities.
Com-Pat therefore owed its initial survival to another technology at the margins of the establishment: These stations sold Com-Pat advertising when no other respectable venues would, and Ball noted the great debt she owed to them. New Scientist, May 4, She believed people were not socializing as much due to an increase in television watching.
Com-Pat focused explicitly on making matches for marriages, and this represented an important division between the two types of dating services operating in the industry at the time. These tended to focus on making a profit through providing a dating service with heterosexual marriage as the implicit goal.
In practice, users might go on many dates and never find a spouse. Smaller Com-Pat, which came out of the marriage bureau industry, did not scale up their profits by collecting a massive user base and pairing up people with lots of partners. Instead, it earned more modest returns attempting specific pairings designed to lead to long-term relationships.
Sorry, ladies, there really is a man shortage
The ultimate goal remained heterosexual marriage, in a context where the problem of creating stable marriages and turning back the rising tide of divorcees was an increasing concern.
Although this element of the story has been largely ignored in American narratives of computer dating, it is much more apparent in the British context. Com-Pat flourished with these techniques: For the most part, however, matching people according to race and social class was taken as a given.
Matching a white Briton with an Italian might be viewed as surprising, but it was tolerable to most potential white users of the service. Racial segregation and animosity within British society made other matches taboo. Though many objected to the crude racial stereotypes in how the figures were drawn, in a broader sense the cartoon accurately showed what many people imagined and feared when they thought about computer dating at the time.
By catering to these attitudes, and enshrining them within supposedly logic-driven systems, computer matchmaking services further institutionalized social biases and hierarchies. Powers-Samas Gazette, Source: Patterson, an unemployed college graduate with a mechanical engineering degree, shared the ideals of the founders of Operation Match. He came up with the idea for Dateline after seeing a Harvard computer matchmaking service, possibly Operation Match or its competitor Contact Incorporated, in operation on a visit to campus in Like Com-Pat, Dateline likely bought time on a mainframe at a computer bureau to run their programs before they were able to afford their own computer.
With a database of 50, people, the company had easily pulled in at least a quarter of a million pounds byin just 5 short years of operation. Later, he fought and won a lawsuit that claimed his ever-growing computer dating empire was getting its profits from pornography. In Dateline was advertising on the London Underground, and its advertisements were being seen by hundreds of thousands of people. If the answer is yes, you must take part in this great social experiment. A sizable minority of Dateline applicants—more women than men—admitted to having been previously married.
Nearly a third of the women were divorcees. Only a tiny minority of users were people of color. Most lived in London, and most sought matches in the late fall and winter.
In reality, the staff of over a dozen punchers, clerks, and computer operators wrote the replies. Unlike Operation Match, with its Ivy League pedigree and youthful image, and unlike Com-Pat with its existing client base from its marriage bureau service, Dateline seemed to pursue users, and their money, more indiscriminately.
Even more so than Tarr, Crump and Ginsburg, Patterson pursued the idea of computer dating as big business. Some women using Dateline never received matches and others received matches whose attributes had no connection to their questionnaire answers. Dateline bought out Com-Pat in Throughout the late s and early s computer matchmaking came under fire for not doing its job of matching like with like, for purposes of social stability and the replication of the nuclear family.
British Overseas Air Corporation BOAC got embroiled in a Parliamentary investigation for running a dating tourism program that matched up willing British girls with visiting American men by computer. BOAC was accused of functioning as a glorified pimp, because unlike other computer dating services, its aim was not to make matches for marriage but to simply arrange matches where both the visitor and the British woman he met had a good time with each other for a short period of time.
Still, their advertising was too subversive for the context of the time: Similarly, women abounded in early business computer advertisements and the early office computing labor market was made up primarily of women. British Airways Heritage Centre online collection, http: Women users were expected to draw men users to the service, but were not necessarily accommodated as the primary customers targeted by the service, even when they were the majority of users.
Certain companies even used hoaxes on their too-plentiful women customers in an effort to make money. One company, for instance, charged extra if a match resulted in a marriage proposal, so rather than doing the work of matching women up by computer with eligible men and taking its chances, the company would send its own employees on dates to make fake proposals to unsuspecting women clients.
Yet another bureau was run by a man who impersonated a member of the clergy.
Such incidents undoubtedly masked less reported, more serious instances of assault, both sexual and otherwise. Many women also complained of having paid large sums of money, running into the hundreds of pounds or dollars over a period of months, and never having received any matches.
First, a significant number of computer dating agencies used unscrupulous tactics to make money, often without providing any real services. For the most part, computer matchmaking encountered very little resistance and was quickly adopted by tens of thousands of people. As constructed in the Anglo-American world it was not revolutionary, and it came of age during a time period when discrimination against women and widespread racial segregation meant that computerized systems tended to extend structural discrimination rather upending it.
Supposedly revolutionary firsts of young men in the early decades of computing are touted while the actual firsts of women are submerged.
Wilson believed that a technological revolution, led by computerization, would produce the social progress needed in British society and help destroy the inequalities of the British class system.
The author quips that she is not impressed with the things technology has given women so far, but that there are lots of other things women want, like equal pay, equal opportunity, full coeducation, wages for housewives, and so on. The conservatism baked into computer dating technology can be viewed not as a bug, but rather as a feature.
The purpose of computerized dating services was to replicate existing social patterns and hierarchies more efficiently. Other women who weighed in on computer dating in the pages of the Times highlighted how computer dating was nothing new, at its most basic level. Head to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute 72 percent male or Georgia Tech 66 percenttwo institutions with way more guys than girls. When faced with an oversupply of women, guys are more likely to delay marriage and play the field.
Or, in other words, to act like guys. No need to wine and dine a potential mate when you can just swipe right. With the gender imbalance on college campuses, men are having a field day, and they may see no need to end their winning streak by settling down. For women, however, the longer a girl settles for casual sex as opposed to a long-term relationship, the more chance she has of ending up alone. If you are a single, something college grad career woman, do not read Dateonomics.
The guys all had several options, but they married the women who pursued them the most. Time to get a new job. Some careers to consider: Cooper Consider dating a nonbeliever, even if it makes your grandma cry into her meat sauce.
An atheist meet-up would be a really good place to meet men.