If Nate Silver’s rise to cult status teaches this math-averse town anything, it’s that algorithms can be sexy. And what’s sexier than using them to find sex itself?
Dan Slater’s “Love in the Time of Algorithms” explores the history and modern-day implications of the explosive growth of online dating, now a $2 billion business in North America . His book — a sampling of which ran recently in the Atlantic — offers an interesting history of computer-aided matchmaking, an anthropological look at online dating behavior and social network-style profiles of some of the (seemingly all male) founders of the era’s biggest online dating success stories, including OkCupid , Plenty of Fish , Match and eHarmony .
Interspersed are short excerpts from the dating life and times of Alexis, a 20-something woman who’s swinging it online and otherwise in New York. Maybe if you’re a young urban hipster — the kind of person who believes that “privacy was something old people fussed over” — these excerpts won’t raise your eyebrows. But otherwise, prepare to experience future-oriented despair.
Of course, there’s something for everyone online, as Slater is quick to point out. Take for example, AshleyMadison.com, a site that specializes in promoting dating options for married people (tagline: “Life is short. Have an affair”). How much do you want to know about Urbancougar.com, DateGinger.com (for redheads and their fans) or FarmersOnly.com?
Online daters are bound to be intrigued by the back-stories of these techno-matchmakers, who may care more about monetizing customers than successfully hooking them up. As one British dating exec asks, “In what other industry is a happy customer bad for business?”
Behind Slater’s engaging reporting lurks the mystery of whether science can actually predict love, even with the most nuanced computer program as its handmaiden. And the ultimate question: What does the ability to connect with streams of ostensibly eligible people at any given moment do to our ideas of courting, commitment, monogamy and even marriage? Slater considers all these issues in an intelligent, edgy, thought-provoking way. His book is worth at least a speed date.
Deane is a writer in Silver Spring.
LOVE IN THE TIME OF ALGORITHMS
What Technology Does to Meeting and Mating
By Dan Slater
Current. 255 pp. $25.95