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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 fall prey to the tyranny of choice—the idea that people, when faced with too many options, find it harder to make a selection.If you are trying to choose a boyfriend out of a herd of thousands, you may choose none of them.There are those which basically allow you to browse through profiles as you would boxes of cereal on a shelf in the store.Others choose for you; they bring five boxes of cereal to your door, ask you to select one, and then return to the warehouse with the four others. It is tempting to think of online dating as a sophisticated way to address the ancient and fundamental problem of sorting humans into pairs, except that the problem isn’t very old.

The obvious advantage of online dating is that it provides a wider pool of possibility and choice.Civilization, in its various guises, had it pretty much worked out.Society—family, tribe, caste, church, village, probate court—established and enforced its connubial protocols for the presumed good of everyone, except maybe for the couples themselves.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.

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