Monday, August 08, 2011

Meeting Mr Right On(line)

I am not sure if it is pretentious to subscribe to the New Yorker magazine, but I do. Admittedly I don't understand some of the articles - they rely a lot on the reader's local knowledge and awareness of City politics, art and culture. But I value the weekly magazine for its restaurant and theatre reviews, feature articles, amateur fiction efforts, and the silly caption contests. Simple pleasures.

In the July 4th issue I read an article about online dating. I thought it was quite amusing at the time that the magazine had put the feature in the "True Romance" department. Perhaps the New Yorker is an optimistic periodical after all, I thought. But as I read on, I realised that its author is not only a happily married man, he's never done any online dating for himself - other than the tinkering he did to research his article. So what I'd hoped was an article about a man's search for love online was really a study in the hardcore business, maths and science of online dating. And the article really got me wondering whether the internet has sucked the life out of romance, or whether romance itself was entirely overrated to begin with. Read the article for yourself here - and you can decide.

On the back of this feature article the New Yorker decided to focus its monthly Big Story event on the subject of internet dating. I dragged SK (a fellow romantic cynic) along for the ride.

We steeled ourself with a lovely dinner at the Chelsea Market first and shared stories about friends - and friends of friends - who had enjoyed success or otherwise in the online dating world. Never having done any online dating ourselves, it was interesting to compare stories with SK about why we've hitherto avoided it. I think we were both quite intrigued about what the lecture panelists might say and whether we'd ultimately be convinced to give online dating a try.

The event was held in cabaret-style format at the Highline Ballroom, and was actually pretty cool. Extremely well-subscribed, the night attracted people of all ages. The panel was moderated by the author of the New Yorker article and he was pretty terrible. I just don't think he had the charisma to engage his panel or generate sufficient debate on the pros and cons of online dating. Complicating matters was the fact that three of the four companies represented on the panel (, & OKCupid) are all owned by the same person. Biased much? The woman representing is also a Professor of Biological Anthropology at Rutgers University and she contributed some really interesting insights into what men & women are really looking for out of the dating experience (either online or in 'real life'). The fourth panelist was a woman who had been dating online for 11 years, with varying degrees of success. But by the very fact of being up there, doesn't she just demonstrate that despite all the mathematical matching and personality profiling involved in online dating, the system doesn't always work? It took balls for her to be up there, that's all I can say.

One of the other trends that stayed with me from the lecture was prompted by a question from the audience. I guy got up to say that he had subscribed to OKCupid and he was enjoying their new smart phone app. You log on via your phone and the website will use your location to flash up potential matches based on your geographical location (by zip code). So the OKCupid guy says that if you're standing in line at Starbucks, the app can tell you which of your fellow customers would be a good match for you, assuming the ladies are also registered on the site of course. I don't know about all that. I figure if you've got your eyeballs glued to your smart phone, aren't you missing the potential to lock eyes with someone on your own? If we're attracted to someone first and foremost by the way they look, why do we need a smart phone app to tell us when to look up?

Or am I too much of an old fuddy duddy and I should really just shut up and get with the times?

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