Thought Leadership

Connecting online

By Colin Walls

When I was a student, in the late 1970s, I spent one year of my course working in industry. There was a young man working in the lab who had a problem: he could not get a girlfriend. He was a nice guy – kind and friendly, with a good sense of humor. And, I was told by female friends and colleagues, he was good looking too. I always felt that he went about it the wrong way. He would spend Friday and Saturday nights hanging out in bars and clubs, hoping to meet someone. From time to time he did “get lucky”, but these encounters never blossomed into a meaningful relationship. I was unsurprised, as the kind of girl he wanted was unlikely to be hanging out in bars.

Eventually, we persuaded him to take another approach: to spend a little money and let modern technology solve his problem …

He signed up with a “computer dating” agency. Note that it was “computer”, not “online” in those days. To use these services, the client was required to complete a multi-page questionnaire [on paper, of course] and send it in the mail with a membership fee. I have the figure £35 in my mind. That was a lot of cash [$300-$400 in today’s money], but computers were big expensive resources, so using them always cost money. In due course, the agency would send back a list of about six names and phone numbers of potential “matches”, as determined by the computer.

My friend went through this procedure and eventually received his first list of numbers. Our next challenge was to get him to make some phone calls and set up dates. But that never happened. He showed up at work one Monday morning with a strange “glow” about him. He had met a girl – a friend of a friend – at the weekend and they just “clicked”. When I last saw him they were busy planning a life together and I have seen evidence that they are still together more than 30 years later. So, I never found out whether computer dating really worked.

Many years later, I learned about how online dating – 21st Century style – could be very successful. As I have posted about before, I recently remarried. My wife and I met through online dating. Our children are rather embarrassed about this, as they think that online dating is for losers and one should meet people in the “real world”. That is fine, but I [like my friend all those years ago] did not really want to meet the kind of woman who hangs around in bars. Could I have accosted women in my favorite supermarket and asked if they were single? I think not.

I think that online dating is a great idea, so long as it is used properly. The key thing is to use it as an introduction mechanism. It is ideal because you are only talking to other people who are looking for someone themselves, which eliminates a lot of preamble. What you should not do is spend too long “getting to know” the person online before you actually meet in person. The danger is that you can develop a picture/impression of the person, to which you may become quite attached, but disappointment is almost inevitable. Of course, when setting up the first meeting, it is essential to take care of your personal safety and select a “neutral”, reasonably public location.

The online dating business is growing fast. In the UK, it all started around 2000 when around 100,000 early adopters braved a dial-up internet connection to find a partner. Now the figure is more like 9.1m [out of a population of about 62m!]. It is estimated that 30% of new relationships arise from the Internet. Of course, some people are looking for life partners; others are looking for something a little more temporary. I guess it is a matter of making your requirements clear. A very significant number of members of online dating services are in ongoing relationships – clearly looking for a better option or some extra-curricular activity. All life is there.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at