Amy Webb – American futurist
So, my name is Amy Webb and my story starts six years ago. I was in not the best relationship although it started really well and I thought that the person I was with was the person I would wind up marrying and our relationship came to a somewhat abrupt end. And I was devastated.
But I looked around at my friends and my family members and the people that I knew and the people that I admired and realized that there were a lot of people who were divorced; there were a lot of people in pretty bad relationships and a whole bunch of people who were generally not happy. And I thought, “What’s wrong with all of us?” Right? We’re all smart people. There’s got to be something wrong. Maybe there’s something wrong with me?
And so I consulted my friends and my family and my grandmother who — in between mahjong games — said, “Play the Field!” “Stop being so picky!” “You got to go out with everybody!” And most importantly, “True love will find you when you’re least expecting it.”
Now, we’ve all heard this before and you may not come from the same background that I do but I’m a numbers person. I’m a data and math person. And “least expecting” my way in the true love made no mathematical or scientific sense. But online dating did. I had a whole bunch of people suggesting me that I try online dating websites and to me that seems a lot easier — going trough that sort of data — than trying to find somebody in real life.
So I decided to create a couple of profiles. I went to Jdate, which is a site for Jewish people and I went to match.com. Now the problem was that I had a very full schedule and the last thing I wanted to do was to sit down and start answering a whole bunch of questions as if I was taking some kind of Cosmo quiz — this is gonna shock all of you but I am not a Cosmo quiz kind of woman.
Now, obviously we all know now that this was not a good idea but I want to take you back to 6 years ago. You see, work was really important to me and I feel very much that my professional life defines who I am also, and perhaps most importantly this bullet point resume that I copied and pasted onto my online dating profile didn’t prevent me from finding dates in fact, these algorithms, at Jdate, Match had stuck me with plenty of people. And we went on truly awful dates. For example there was Steve, the IT guy.
Now, online he seemed spectacular. He said he was 6 feet tall, muscular. He was a foodie who liked to cook and an IT manager, who loved gadgets. The problem, as I soon realized was that Steve in real life was a very short 6′ tall and quite stocky he did like gadgets and he was an IT manager but one of the things that I realized when we went out was that he liked to order lots and lots of food that was very very expensive. So he ordered all kinds of dishes the most expensive bottle of wine on the menu and when the bill came he actually pushed it towards me on the table.
Now, I am a modern woman and I am totally OK with paying the bill sometimes and splitting the bill sometimes. But I didn’t order all of that and the bill came up to what at the time, was an entire month’s rent for me so reluctantly I pulled up my credit card and I thought, “That’s it, you know, we’re done. I’m leaving.”
Outside the restaurant, he tried to shake my hand and I said, “This is interesting, thank you.” And I started to walk towards my car and Steve ambled laboriously behind me and as he’s walking, said, “Do you smoke?” and I said, “No, I don’t”.
“So do you mind if I do?”
And I thought, “At this point, am I going to be able to stop him?”
So he pulls out of his pocket this thing, this giant thing that didn’t quite look like a cigarette and didn’t quite look like a cigar; it was in fact a giant joint a roadside flare of weed. And out in the middle of everybody he lit this thing up and asked me if I wanted to take a puff. Okay. So obviously this was a terrible date but it’s one of just many many terrible dates and after each I would go home; I would call my mom, I would call my sister, and tell them what an awful time that I had had, and they said every single time, “Stop complaining! You’re just being too picky.”
And I thought,”That’s ridiculous”. Right, I’m gonna start showing them empirically that these are really terrible dates. So I’m going to do three things. I agreed to continue with my grandmother’s advice to date everybody until ‘least expect’ my way into true love, but I did that with some parameters. I would only meet men at bars that I knew had wi-fi. I carried a giant bag with me and my laptop inside where, once we were at the date they would invariably go terribly terribly wrong. I would pull out an email template that I had created in advance where I had different data points that I would track so that, when the date went bad I could show with empirical evidence and quantitatively why this entire thing was a ridiculous exercise.
So I would send out these email templates and I was tracking things like the number of times the guy tried to high-five me. If you want to touch me, by all means, touch me, but don’t force me to stick my hand in the air. And the number of times he abused the English language and over time I had amassed quite a bit of data. And that allowed me to make some correlations. For example — For example, the number of times I got high fived the more times that guy was to abuse the English language. The more shots he ordered, the more likely he was to lie about his job.
And speaking of alcohol, for some reason, and I still can’t figure out why, Scotch drinkers were more likely to immediately talk about kinky sex right when we sat down, than anybody else. And this may not be surprising, but lawyers were 62% more likely to pull up their mobile phone and stare into it than me, and compared to some of the other people that I went out with.
Now listen, these weren’t necessarily bad guys; they were just bad for me but the problems, actually were the dating algorithms that we’ve all come to rely on those of us who are online. Now to be sure, algorithms in dating are actually not a new thing in history; we’ve had matchmakers in every culture and my culture is Jewish and we had matchmakers, too and the matchmakers for us would be looking at things like whether or not the girl and the boy would get along, what the rabbi would say, whether the community would agree, whether or not they’d have kids and even I, in the process of setting up my friends and coworkers when asked had sort of my own formula that I was using.