Internet Matchmaking

THE WORLD’S A BIG SINGLES BAR: Heard the one about the guy who dropped into a computer dating center and said he wanted someone who enjoyed water sports, liked company, favored formal attire, and was very small?

The computer whirred and sent him a penguin.

On the Beat

The Internet is full of computer dating jokes, outrageous dirty cartoons, and cruel satires, like the redneck dating questionnaire I just read. But the fact is that not only have 16 million Americans tried one of these sites, but the gimmick is spreading around the world. U.S. computer dating outfits are dying to crack the market in China, where there are more than two million marriage-age singles in Beijing alone, according to a recent Time magazine article.

There are already 14 million Chinese daters online, but the catch is that Chinese lonely hearts don’t like to pay for the matchmaking service. It’s also proving a hard sell in India, where up to 90 percent of weddings are still- get this-arranged. You’re really going to let your parents pick your life’s companion?

Jokes aside, this computer dating phenomenon seems to work., started in 2000 by Neil Clark Warren, “the folksy clinical psychologist who starred in the company’s ads,” poses 426 questions to users in search for something in common, Time reports. (Try that over two drinks at a noisy singles’ bar.) Since then, it’s racked up $200 million in revenues, 90 marriages a day, and unions that have produced 100,000 children-“a disproportionate number of them named Harmony.”

One of my best buddies found the love of his life through one of these dating sites a few years ago and now he and his sweetheart are one happy couple. They each had to endure numerous bizarre coffee or lunch dates in the process, though. All of which reminds me of a couple that met via a computer chat site. Eventually they decided to meet at a hotel and ended up in bed and were wed, right here in Santa Barbara. He was small and she was rather large. All seemed to be going well and we had some lively dinners. But then came the IRS troubles, money issues with the ex-wife, and the surprise breakup. That, she confessed to us, was due to his insistence on S&M. I wonder if that subject is covered by eHarmony’s 426 questions. As for Sue and me, we met the old-fashioned way-at work.

BIG BROTHER EYING YOU: If Mark Twain was right, Congress should beware the FBI plan to create a massive $1 billion biometrics database of Americans’ photos, palm prints, and retina scans. All in the interest of tracking terrorists and crooks, natch. After all, Twain noted, “It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.”

Those are the same congressional palms that lobbyists smack with big bucks of bribes-oops, I mean campaign donations. (Remember, Congress made those laws that keep the dough from being labeled as bribery.)

Congress is notoriously slow to catch the drift of anything, but when the richest, most exclusive club in America realizes what the FBI is up to, we’ll surely see an about-face in this plan to create a database of just about all of us.

Down to our scars and tattoos, and linked to our names, addresses, job applications, airplane travel, Social Security data, drinking habits, and who knows what else.

Unfortunately, the FBI has a sorry history of misusing whatever it Hoovers up. I hate to bring up the name of J. Edgar Hoover, but his files kept generations of public officials and private citizens in mortal terror that he’d use the illegal wiretaps and other slimy gleanings to expose their real or imagined indiscretions, including freedom of speech. That’s how he stayed in power so long, as the most feared man in Washington. Hoover was so busy keeping FBI agents bloodhounding his personal enemies that he even denied there was organized crime. When this proposed $1 billion surveillance contract is finished in 10 years, who’s to know who’ll be in power and what misuse will go on? If the FBI wants to put us all in its files, let it start with the White House and move on to Congress, and then all of official Washington and the lobbyists. If it’s okay with them, then let the agents scan my eyeballs and search my body, what’s left of it, for tattoos.

VIOLA DA GAMBA: What, you never heard of a viola da gamba? Well, it’s not an Italian sandwich or a river in Spain. It’s a bowed, fretted string instrument developed in the 15th century, featured in the film All the Mornings of the World. The world’s master of the instrument, Jordi Savall, will be performing February 14 at the Lobero.


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