the fall of 1964, on a visit to the World’s Fair, in Queens, Lewis Altfest, a twenty-five-year-old accountant, came upon an open-air display called the Parker Pen Pavilion, where a giant computer clicked and whirred at the job of selecting foreign pen pals for curious pavilion visitors. Within a year, more than five thousand subscribers had signed on. It would invite dozens of matched couples to singles parties, knowing that people might be more comfortable in a group setting. They wound up in the pages of the New York subscriber.
You filled out a questionnaire, fed it into the machine, and almost instantly received a card with the name and address of a like-minded participant in some far-flung locale—your ideal match. He called up his friend Robert Ross, a programmer at I. M., and they began considering ways to adapt this approach to find matches closer to home. “This loser happens to be a talented fashion illustrator for one of New York’s largest advertising agencies.
They’d heard about some students at Harvard who’d come up with a program called Operation Match, which used a computer to find dates for people. She makes Quiche Lorraine, plays chess, and like me she loves to ski. ”One day, a woman named Patricia Lahrmer, from 1010 WINS, a local radio station, came to to do an interview.
Online dating sites, whatever their more mercenary motives, draw on the premise that there has got to be a better way.
They approach the primeval mystery of human attraction with a systematic and almost Promethean hand.
You can get to thinking that the single ones are single for a reason.
If your herd is larger, your top choice is likely to be better, in theory, anyway. When there is something better out there, you can’t help trying to find it.
Each client paid five dollars and answered more than a hundred multiple-choice questions. (A previous installment had been about a singles bar—Maxwell’s Plum, on the Upper East Side, one of the first that so-called “respectable” single women could patronize on their own.) She had planned to interview Altfest, but he was out of the office, and she ended up talking to Ross.
One section asked subjects to choose from a list of “dislikes”: “1. The batteries died on her tape recorder, so they made a date to finish the interview later that week, which turned into dinner for two.
Another question, in a section called “Philosophy of Life Values,” read, “Had I the ability I would most like to do the work of (choose two): (1) Schweitzer. (3) Picasso.” Some of the questions were gender-specific.
They started seeing each other, and two years afterward they were married.
The twentieth century reduced it all to smithereens.