In the latest film in our “Signals” series, we meet the creators of Operation Match, as well as some of their customers, who are still married to the person the service found for them.For decades I’ve told friends and some family that I met my wife through a friend.I met my wife of more than 31 years via a computer-based Jewish dating service in Seattle.Back then, circa 1982, before everyone had a PC, smartphone, tablet, or watch that told them where they were and connected them to the untethered world, online dating was in its embryonic stage.It explores the mid-twentieth century origins of computer dating and matchmaking in order to argue for the importance of using sexuality as a lens of analysis in the history of computing.Doing so makes more visible the heteronormativity that silently structures much of our technological infrastructure and helps bring other questions about gender, race, and class into the foreground.(“Love to Love You Baby” was the anthem of the times.) There are only so many people you can meet through your friends and family.
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.
We’re talking punch cards and computers the size of bank vaults.
If you went to college in the ’70s, you can recall waiting in line to hand in your stack of chad-laced three-by-eight cards to some wonderfully caring soul late at night in the school’s computer center.
A year later, Altfest and Ross had a prototype, which they called Project , an acronym for Technical Automated Compatibility Testing—New York City’s first computer-dating service. She was the station’s first female reporter, and she had chosen, as her début feature, a three-part story on how New York couples meet.
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.
Not just any friend, mind you, but a “good friend.” No one questioned me, chalking up my good fortune to clean living and a decent amount of annual charitable giving.