by Katherine Dee
Wednesday, 1
December 2021
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11:50

The new ingredient in the dating algorithm: human beings

It turns out that people are a useful component in matchmaking
by Katherine Dee
Swan’s homepage

Swan’s website greets you with the message, “Welcome to a different kind of dating.”

‘Swipe, swipe, swipe,’ the landing page continues, ‘there has to be a better way.’

Their proposed antidote? Human intervention.

Swan uses ‘a proprietary algorithm and dedicated team to hand-pick matches for you.’ They promise to handle everything, from finding your match to picking out a date location. “Imagine if all you had to do is show up,” the website reads.

It’s a familiar promise — they’re an old school matchmaker with a technical veneer.

Swan’s reimagining of the dating world is one where there’s no infinitum of overfilled inboxes or fruitless swiping, no ghosting, and no difficult conversations about how “you’re a great guy/gal, but I wasn’t feeling the connection.”

Dating app fatigue isn’t new, and in fact, has been ubiquitous since apps first hit the market. Once used for casual hook-ups in the gay male community, dating apps have become the de facto way to meet a romantic or sexual partner. Negative reactions to this dynamic are a mainstay in popular culture; venting frustration about dating apps is practically a genre of content in and of itself, from think pieces to stand-up comedy to viral social media posts. Some argue that the incel phenomenon is also a reaction to the ubiquity of dating apps.

People who propose solutions to our dating quandary are less common than people who complain about it, but each year, the number of ambitious people claiming to have the answer grows.

Last year, former academic Justin Murphy launched an arranged marriage agency targeted to disaffected, Internet-addicted millennials. As part of its “Uber for marriage” programme, its mission was to free people from choice paralysis and create values-based matches as opposed to a looks-based ones. (Full disclosure, I was briefly part of their marketing team.)

Social media also provides further ground for other types of matchmaking operations. On TikTok, professional matchmakers like Alexis Germany have found new life and new audiences. And on Twitter, you don’t have to look far for men willing to offer a bounty if somebody can find them a wife. Just ask Brenner Spear, who’s offering a cool $50,000 finder’s fee for whomever can find him a partner.

In addition, there’s been a spate of matchmaking efforts including everything from “digital blind dating” where people post anonymised personal ads for their friends and followers to simple open calls for singles to Zoom matchmaking.

One might be able to argue that these solutions seem to pop up every few years, with nothing really changing. But it could be that we’re now reaching critical mass? Just two weeks ago, arguably the biggest player in the dating industry, Match Group, which owns properties like OkCupid, Tinder, Plenty of Fish, and Hinge, introduced a human matchmaking element to its namesake property, match.com.

But while these changes appear to be a good thing— they ideally place people in long-lasting relationships more efficiently — it is still the market at work. Adding humans to an algorithm still doesn’t quite make it human.

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Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago

I’m only 47 but I don’t recognise any of these experiences! The idea of young people paying dating agencies and match-makers seemed ludicrous 25 years ago. They were the preserve of late middle aged divorcees and the stuff of sitcom sketches.

What happened? Do young men not chat up young women in pubs anymore?

Last edited 6 months ago by Matt M
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

No, they don’t, apparently. Also, if you are friendly with someone at work and you ask them out, that is now regarded as stalkerish and creepy. It all seems a total mess.

Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Yes it seems a disaster to me too!

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
6 months ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

You are 100% right. I went running on Sunday and there were many paths with fallen trees. I passed a few (male) runners going towards the blockages and shouted, “No way through”. They stopped and grinned and thanked me. I passed three (female) runners and shouted out the message. They looked away and carried on running.
So, after being blitzed with MeToo (accuse men of harassment if you can) and reading endless articles about nasty, horrible men I conclude that helping any woman is dangerous. If I see two men accosting an hysterical woman and I tried to help in any way, the chances are I would be roped in as one of the attackers. It is better that men don’t try to help women- it is not safe to do so.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Ten years ago I would have thought that a horrible approach. Now I just think you’re right. Too much risk. Outrage is easily stirred and disseminated, and if it turns out to be misplaced it is not easily corrected.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
6 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m sure you’re right. There’s no upside whatsoever to your getting involved in such a situation. But there’s clearly at least the potential for downside. So you have the choice of do something that has no benefit, or do a different thing that carries risk. It’s obvious what the correct course is.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

…what’s a ‘pub’?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
6 months ago

…it is still the market at work…”

The use of algorithms surely doesn’t make any difference, except provide scale and acceleration. Because when, in human history, wasn’t it a market with brokers? When? And algorithms are no more and no less than souped up, infinitely disinterested brokers. Or are there people out there who believe that there is in fact, for each and every human, one, and exactly one perfect partner, you just have to use the fairy dust to find them?

What makes the difference is not the algorithms, but self acknowledgements – prompted by the algorithms – of things most people eventually see with prosaic, crystalline, clarity, as the hormone floods start to die down. And all the algorithms are doing is accelerating the process, by holding a mirror up to people. Which then pulls you down the rabbit holes. Fragmentation, on it’s way to nihilism. Coming, to a mind near you. You read it here first.

Last edited 6 months ago by Prashant Kotak
David McKee
David McKee
6 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Having talked to one or two young people about this, I have to disagree, Mr. Kotak.
Algorithms make a huge difference. People are presented with a huge number of candidates who meet their requirements, and they are then required to make a choice, based on little more than the photos of the candidates. Flick, swipe left, flick, swipe left, flick, ooh, looks dishy, swipe right. It’s all terribly superficial.
This feeds through into the first date itself. I’ve earwagged on one of these dates. I felt so sorry for the young man. It was not so much a date as we would recognise it, as a job interview by a charmless and unsympathetic interviewer. If the young man failed to tick all the boxes, he could kiss a second date goodbye.
There are few places where young people congregate for other purposes – church, political party, environmentalist pressure group, Rotary, etc – where they can get to know each other in a non-dating environment before asking each other out. That is a terrible pity. Even the universities seem to have given up on their traditional matchmaking role.
The attraction of algorithmic matchmaking is that it is easy. It requires far less effort than getting out and mingling with other young people. It is easy and – as people are finding out – it does not work.

Sean Penley
Sean Penley
6 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

I agree. I think another factor is that the algorithms have to go off of what we say we want. But sometimes what we think we want isn’t what we really want, and you only really discover that by getting to know someone.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
6 months ago
Reply to  David McKee

Which makes you wonder why more young men don’t join the dots and visit prostitution websites instead. They’re guaranteed a result, the cost is finite, there’s no emotional risk and they’d probably meet a nicer class of female.

George Wells
George Wells
6 months ago

In Bologna in 1996 some friends pointed out a house we were driving past, saying the couple who lived there had ‘met on the internet’. As an aside, how about retro testing marriages with this software. Perhaps it can tell me ‘you are a 17% fit with your wife’. Or, if it knows we have children together, we might be 19% or even 21%, depending perhaps on the number of children. There’s just got to be a niche left for the old school chat up skills, a niche, it seems, with very little competition. While the boys are looking at their phones, there’s a man somewhere telling a woman she is beautiful and she is, and she has never met anyone like him.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
6 months ago
Reply to  George Wells

She’d think he was creepy. There are no dates any more. They go out in a gang of 8 or 10 and then use each other for sex having done nothing to earn it.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
6 months ago

When I was young, ‘dating’ belonged in films about 1950s America, along with bobby sox and drive-in movies. We went to parties and ‘got off’ with people as well as joining things like the tennis club and the Young Farmers. I can honestly say that I have never been on a ‘date’ in my life!