This past weekend, President Obama delivered a commencement speech at historically black college Hampton University. He addressed the audience of fresh young grads with advice to arm them and inspire them as they prepare to go into the modern world and into an environment of unprecedented
information and technology. About three-fourths of the way through his speech he looked into the eager young faces and told them that “online dating was a distraction” and that the experience had evolved to where “information becomes a distraction, a diversion, a form of entertainment rather than a tool of empowerment.” Okay, maybe I am slightly paraphrasing, but I could hear the intent behind his words. What he really said was that we all live in a 24/7 media environment that bombards us will all kinds of content and that all of that information has lead us away from the value of the content and focused us on the volume.
Online dating can work. I know a half dozen couples that have found the love of their life through what seems like an endless list of online sites, and for a certain person, these are a fine option. But mostly what I find are two things: first, consumers mistake the infinite amount of information and ability to meticulously screen against criteria as a source of comfort and confidence in the channel, and two, that much of the information in these online services is “mostly true” and a good chunk is patently false. Because of these two things, the online experience leads those truly seeking love down an unhappy and frustrating path.
The first thing we do when we “rescue” clients from online services is to take their list of 35 cross-indexed and permutated criteria and boil it down to the handful of things that really matter to them in a lifetime of happiness. Not only do we re-orient our client around what is truly important, but we also break a cycle of expected perfection that comes from endless screening and filtering. The next thing we do with our clients is share the “truth” about their matches. We do extensive one-on-one interviews with every match and complete basic background checks to ensure identity and core facts (e.g., marital status). We want to make sure that all of our matches are "as advertised".
I am not trying to discount the “fun value” of thumbing through a grid of semi-accurately described potential dates in the comfort of your own home, but like our President said to our next generation, the entertainment value of infinite information has crowded out the purpose, and it is time to focus on what is important.
Thanks for the insight, Barack!