Data Dating

Computers Have Helped New Yorkers Find Dates Since 1965

To kick off a fascinating and lengthy piece about online dating in The New Yorker this week, Nick Paumgarten looks at TACT, the Technical Automated Compatability Testing service pioneered by an I.B. M programmer and an accountant from Queens after a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens.

For five dollars, customers got the chance to answer hundreds of questions where they offered their like, dislike and philosophies of life. Men got to choose their favorite hairstyle, women their favorite scene of a man at work. These answer were transferred to punch cards and fed into an I.B.M. 1400 Series. It got 5,000 subscribers in the first year.

It expanded from the Upper East Side, at the time a hotbed of sexual daring, to cover the entire city. The stigma associated with online dating was present from the beginning. “Some people think computer dating services attract only losers,” reads some TACT ad copy Mr. Paumgarten sampled. “This loser happens to be a talented fashion illustrator for one of New York’s largest advertising agencies. She makes Quiche Lorraine, plays chess, and like me she loves to ski. Some loser!”

Mr. Ross ended up meeting his wife, a reporter for 1010 WINS, on a story about TACT. Years later Paumgarten went on one of the only two dates in his life with the daughter of this union. They took in a Broadway play and went out for Chinese food. He ordered a tequila sunrise. Things didn’t work out.

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