Dynamist Blog


This LAT article about online matchmaking services provides a nice followup to my recent NYT column. Again, access to variety is the Internet's great consumer benefit, as long as you have the right tools for searching:

WeAttract.com, which developed the personality test for Match.com, takes the view that "lasting relationships are those that can live with quirks ï¿ and those that might even make the partner more adorable to the other," says Mark Thompson, president of WeAttract.com and developer of the test.

"Most of us are 6 or 7s (on a scale of 10), so maybe they're not an A but really a B. But we want to be with someone who thinks we're an A," he adds. "The beautiful thing about the Internet is that even if that person [who appreciates you] is one in a million, you can find [that person]."

He recalls a Rubenesque woman some years ago whom he thought was beautiful ï¿ but who complained that no one wanted to date her. If Internet dating were available back then, she likely would have found plenty of men who appreciated her beauty and personality.

Or, as I wrote in this 1999 Forbes ASAP column:

The Internet means you don't have to be alone -- no matter how unusual you seem to be. On the Internet, people on the tails of the bell curve can find one another.

Every aspect of human identity, from size, shape, and color to sexual proclivities and intellectual gifts, comes in a wide range. Most of us cluster somewhere in the middle of most statistical distributions. But there are lots of bell curves, and pretty much everyone is on a tail of at least one of them. We may collect strange memorabilia or read esoteric books, hold unusual religious beliefs or wear odd-sized shoes, suffer rare diseases or enjoy obscure movies. Our distinguishing trait may be good or evil, important or trivial, transitory or permanent.

Having spent a century discovering the middle of the bell curve -- the mass market, the mass media -- we are only now realizing that this "mass," by its very massiveness, guarantees amazing variety. By lowering transaction costs, the Net makes it easier for businesses to serve the entire distribution rather than just the middle. It can offer every book in print, for instance.

By giving unsual people an easy way to find one another, the Internet has also enabled them to pool rare talents, resources, and voices, then push their case into public consciousness. The response, in many cases, is a kind of hysteria. Media gatekeepers yearn for the good old days of a "common culture," as defined by three TV networks and near-monopoly newspapers -- a culture in which no one could see the outliers. The Internet, we're told, is a place of scary hate groups, strange religions, bizarre sex, and way too little editing.

But far more significant is the happiness engendered by a medium that is sociable even when it is merely supplying passive information. On the Net, the bell curve reclaims its tails. The uncommon is as accessible as the common. The very fragmentation of the Internet allows us to find ourselves in other people--and to know that we are not alone.

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