The Printers may be eco-friendly but our professors aren't

By Margaret O’Halloran

During my junior year a friend of mine decided to erect an OkCupid profile. She asked me to join her and I did so out of solidarity, if not a great deal of curiosity. At first the site piqued my interest. However, this enthusiasm eventually gave way to a visceral feeling of discomfort, one that unnerved me so profoundly that I had to delete my profile and could henceforth never argue in favor of online dating ever again. My friend, on the other hand, went on to find a boy with whom she’s been happily dating for over a year.In observing my own negative response I was compelled to ask myself why I had reacted so poorly and, when my peers asked me the same question, why I would respond: “I don’t know, it just creeps me out.” It seemed unfair and disrespectful of me to reject, without good reason, a tool that has helped millions of people find a person whom they can love.

On first inspection I thought that my unease had to do with Macalester’s inability to efficiently communicate face-to-face. With the explosive, campus-wide popularity of sites such as LikeaLittle.com, the internet’s ability to open up new avenues of romantic dialog has come under fire by myself and others. What is more, as a child of a hippy mother, I accepted as an article of faith that “authentic” conversation was the only kind. However, I later found that these cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because I spend my life in front of a computer.

The conversation against OkCupid that uses flighty ideas of authenticity is about as jejune as a fear of Craigslist murderers. However, many who have dabbled in online dating will tell you that the discomfort is undeniable despite its being inexpressible. As such, I’d like to propose the following as a possible reason for why one might react poorly to the idea of online dating:

Like most other dating sites, OkCupid uses algorithms to match people based on answers to sets of questions as well as data collected from the correspondences between users. OkCupid’s goal is to stimulate a “three-way”–not a ménage trios, but a correspondence wherein a user sends a message to his or her potential sweetheart, receives a reply, and sends a follow-up.

It is the nature of OkCupid’s algorithms to limit the number of users that are presented to you. These algorithms are constructed out of raw data gathered from OkCupid users and they can shed light on romantic trends, some of which people would rather be unaware. For instance, according to The Atlantic’s investigation of the site, all races of women respond better to white men than they should based on the men’s looks, whereas black women, as a group, are the least likely to have their missives returned, but are the most likely to respond to messages.

When asked if OkCupid intentionally tailors its algorithms to present users with racially “successful” pairings, co-founder Sam Yagan said: “Imagine we did a lot of research, and we found that there were certain demographic or psychographic attributes that were predictors of three-ways. Hispanic men and Indian women, say. If we thought that drove success, we could tweak it so those matches showed up more often. Not because of a social mission, but because if it’s working, there needs to be more of it.”

How coy. The site that claims it wants to be the “Google” of online dating cannot be troubled with anything but codes, algorithms, and statistics. However, such staunch focus on statistical data presents OkCupid users with matches that are “compatible” in so much as they are complacent; that is to say that your “match” is only a “match” because he or she probably won’t force you to critically examine your own bigoted baggage. Because OkCupid builds its algorithms based off data collected from a society of people addled with cultural hangups, the site does more to enforce normative cultural values than it does to foster co-mingling amongst people who would otherwise sit at home and whack off.

I say, let them sit. Why do I have to be in support of a dating site created by four dudes from Harvard? Clearly OkCupid was made by rich-white people, for rich-white people, so that they can go on being rich-white, having vanilla sex and giving birth to purebred babies. OkCupid is just eugenics in hip clothing. It’s a site that recapitulates the same cultural ills of networking, the same privileged advantages afforded to us by our college degrees. OkCupid makes skirting around diversity easier. It, in effect, makes cheating easier. And if you don’t believe me, then perhaps you could tell me why the Harvard foursome thought OkCupid the next logical step after their first money making scheme: SparkNotes.

Jens Tamang ’11 is a biweekly columnist for the Mac Weekly and can be reached at [email protected]