Will technology be the death of love? This Valentine’s Day there’s perhaps only one solution to nding romance in the modern world

T his is a typical date from the not-too-distant future: a young man (K) and a young woman (A) go on a date to a café / bar. They both have smart-pads with them and share clips and messages friends have sent. Their friends are watching the live feed and comment on how good-looking, sharp and well-matched A and K are. The date starts with 200 friends online and the numbers start to rise. Friends make suggestions ‘move in closer’, ‘touch his hand’. Their dating site, too, is giving them ratings from live-voter viewing. ‘Look, we’ve got 2000 followers,’ A says to K. ‘Quick, say something romantic.’ K struggles to make conversation. ‘So, you like neo punk.’ ‘Yeah,’ replies A. ‘And you’re into burlesque’ ‘Yeah.’ Flirting is hard as they both already know that they share the same interests in i lms, music, TV, politics and sport. This was, after all, why they were algorithmically selected for each other by the dating site in the i rst place (other factors included body size, ethnicity and religious and sexual preferences). K asks his online friends to suggest jokes. One hundred suggestions l ood in and he shares them with A. Somehow this wasn’t very funny. She then worries whether she i nds K attractive. Did the algorithms get it wrong? A asks her friends to vote:

8 THE LIST 23 Jan–20 Feb 2014

‘Do I fancy him?’ K and A focus on their voting stats. They attempt to please their followers it is, after all, these followers who will decide whether they should go back to his or hers later and consummate, an act that too will be i lmed and shared online, with K and A rated ‘hot’ or ‘not’. At their table, wordless now, K and A sit back and wait for the results. They’re disappointed that so many viewers dropped out. Their friends must have chosen to watch another online date out of the hundreds of thousands available.

This might sound like a futuristic dystopia, but the technologies required are already here: they just have to be merged. Dating sites are now huge and have changed from the pot-luck system they started out with. Sites like Match.com, eHarmony and OkCupid all now compile questionnaire data to make algorithmic pre-selections for your partners, editing out people that don’t match your type. Bang goes the possibility of a chance encounter with someone from a different earnings bracket or background one of the former requirements of the ‘thunderbolt’ of romantic love, and of the phenomenon of ‘opposites attract’. Online dating used to be a slightly sordid, secretive adventure, but now it’s gone ‘social’ with sites like Badoo, Matchmaker and Gelato that merge dating with all the chummy tools of Facebook. Gelato uses the FriendFeed system to harvest info from your accounts with Flickr, Twitter, Netl ix, LastFM, Amazon and others to ‘give potential matches a good impression of the type of person you are instead of reading a proi le that you created especially for the purpose of online dating’. On Badoo and Plentyofi sh, you are also invited to rate users’ pics as a ‘yes’, ‘no’ or ‘maybe’ for a