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Slide Notes

Adult Night: The Science of Sex
Discovery Center of Idaho
Boise, ID
April 2014

Romantic Matchmaking & Marriage in Algorithmic Culture

Published on Nov 19, 2015

No Description

PRESENTATION OUTLINE

Compatibility Science

DAWN SHEPHERD, BOISE STATE UNIVERSITY
Adult Night: The Science of Sex
Discovery Center of Idaho
Boise, ID
April 2014
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I am not

I am not a psychologist, a psychometrician, a
computer scientist, a marriage counselor, a relationship expert, or a robot.
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formal apparatus

EHARMONY AS PROCEDURAL RHETORIC
This presentation examines the formal apparatus of internet romantic matchmaking, or IRM, site eHarmony as procedural rhetoric.

I will argue that eHarmony's functionality works to reify traditional marriage during this period of destabilization and transformation.

This work relies on Alexander Galloway's work in Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization and Ian Bogost's work in Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames.
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Untitled Slide

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PROCREATION

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EHARMONY

eHarmony launched in 2000, led by clinical psychologist and marriage counselor Neil Clark Warren. The privately held company claims to have had 33 million users across its history.

The site matches users based on their potential for relationship satisfaction and their level of compatibility.

TECHNIQUES & CONVENTIONS

"AFFECT PROCESSING ON A SOCIAL LEVEL, NOT SIMPLY A TECHNICAL ONE"
According to Galloway, formal apparatus is "the totality of techniques and conventions that affect protocol on a social level, not simply a technical one.
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procedurality

POSSIBILITY, CONCEALMENT, & SITUATEDNESS
For Bogost procedurality is "a way of creating, explaining, or understanding processes" (3). Here, three conditions of procedurality--possibility, concealment, and situatedness (my labels)--are especially relevant.
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I am

I am a rhetorician and new media scholar.

Untitled Slide

This excerpt from the introduction to the core personal dimensions in Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons resembles a Platonic dialogue with the father, presumably a stand-in for Warren, in the role of interlocutor. In it, he warns his son against marrying his selfish girlfriend because 'people change, but not much,' and EH experience across all workflows is predicated on that notion.

matching

INVISIBLE TO USERS
user experience: invisible to users until site-selected matches are delivered

system processing: matches user based on BOTH match group (for example, in opposite-sex matching, a woman is matched with men who have similar likelihood for relationship satisfaction) and similar personality profiles
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SELF-PRESENTATION & OTHER-EVALUATION

CLOSELY TIED TO MATE SELECTION & PHYSICAL DESIRE
The site's dependence on self-report seems to presume a certain singular truth of identity that will be transparently communicated through the Relationship Questionnaire rather than being answered strategically in an effort to increase one's attractiveness to others.
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COMMUNICATIONS

STRUCTURED INTERACTIONS
user experience: matches delivered by via e-mail and on site dashboard; with other users through Guided Communication

site processing: structured set of interactions between users before direct communication
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MATCHING

FIND PEOPLE WHO ARE HIGHLY COMPATIBLE WITH YOU
eHarmony's patented matching system is regularly featured in its advertisements, and the introduction to the Relationship Questionnaire highlights it: 'Now it is time to complete our comprehensive Relationship Questionnaire and receive your detailed Personality Profile. The results will provide you with insights about yourself and will enable us to find people who are highly compatible with you.'

COMMUNICATIONS

DEEPENS THE APPEARANCE OF CERTAINTY
Finally, the inflexibility of eHarmony's communications workflow deepens the appearance of certainty. By moving couples through a highly regimented Guided Communication process, the site gives the impression that it can protect its users, mitigating ambiguity or deceit, as if they will know their matches better when they begin communicating more openly and/or meet face to face.
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POSSIBILITY

Early on, eHarmony sets an expectation of reliability and trustworthiness. By constructing a narrow range of possibility, EH provides clear expectations for its users, instilling confidence in the site.
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CONCEALMENT

EHARMONY RELIES ON CONCEALMENT & VISIBILITY
By filling out the Relationship Questionnaire, users experience data preparation, but EH reveals little about how the information will be used. In the matching workflow, EH continues to rely on concealment in this set of processes that are primarily unavailable to users, and the EH communications workflow is visible and deliberate, positioning it in contradistinction to more familiar electronic communication technologies.
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SITUATEDNESS

identity, fixed and quantifiable. relationship satisfaction, predictable.
eHarmony draws on specific, culturally determined and contingent logics to govern the kinds of user information it collects and stores and how it connects users to one another. Its functionality is rooted in a social-scientific, modernist understanding of subjectivity. Within this logic, individual identity is fixed and quantifiable, and relationship satisfaction is predictable.

PEOPLE CAN CHANGE, BUT NOT MUCH

In Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons, Warren (2005) paints a bleak picture of the prospect of marriage success—'"And they lived happily ever after" for many people is a colossal hoax!' (Warren, 2005: 41)—before offering a pitch for his company's system. He predicates his argument for EH's matchmaking method on its scientific makeup.

protocol

"A PSEUDO-IDEOLOGICAL FORCE THAT HAS INFLUENCE OVER REAL HUMAN LIVES"
If we return now to Galloway, he discusses protocol in "its political sense, [as] a pseudo-ideological force that has influence over real human lives" (Protocol 81). He argues that protocol is strongly related to Deleuze's control, a new regime of power that relies on information technologies to observe and manage people’s movements, and Foucault's idea of biopolitics, or the use of quantified data for the management of population.
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CONTROL OVER PERCEPTION OF MARRIAGE IS INCREASINGLY SIGNIFICANT

The use of computational logics is especially important in online dating because they are implicated in one of society's most fundamental institutions, marriage.
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UNDERLYING ASSUMPTION

DOES NOT ACCOUNT FOR MULTIPLE subjectivities
This underlying assumption does not account for multiple subjectivities, even as it depends on them in its users.
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Untitled Slide

Previously, marriage experienced some of its most significant transformations in the West during the eighteenth century. As social historian Stephanie Coontz notes in Marriage: A History, it was not until then that marrying for love, what she calls the love match, became the ideal.

THE LOVE MATCH

"ROMANTIC LOVE, INTIMACY, PERSONAL FULFILLMENT, & MUTUAL HAPPINESS"
According to Coontz, by the Victorian era, "marriage harbored all the hopes of romantic love, intimacy, personal fulfillment, and mutual happiness" (178). In addition to narrowing the center of marriage—from the extended family to the married couple—the growing prominence of the love match also brought calls for more liberal divorce laws in Europe and North America (Coontz 180). It is not surprising, then, that new apparatuses for managing procreative relationships emerged.
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Untitled Slide

Indeed, Foucault notes that during this time population emerges as "an economic and political problem," and the government's concern shifts from a management of subjects as individual people to the management of population "with its specific phenomena and variables" (Foucault, HoS, 139).

It is at this point that a new kind of power develops, a schema focused on the species body. This new biopolitical power worked alongside discipline, the earlier form of power over life.

WITH THE RISE OF THE TEA PARTY MOVEMENT

ATTENTION TO GOVERNMENTAL INTERVENTION INTO everyday LIVES
One biopower response to this problem of population is political. With developments such as the rise of the Tea Party movement in the Republican party, we have seen increasing attention paid to governmental intervention into citizens' everyday lives.
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HAVE INCREASED

NEW ATTEMPTS TO FACILITATE AND MANAGE PROCREATIVE RELATIONSHIPS
In the contemporary United States, we see similar struggles as marriage and birth rates fall.
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management of life

REPRODUCTIVE & SAME-SEX MARRIAGE CHOICE
There are two significant exceptions that relate directly to the management of life: reproductive rights and same-sex marriage.

SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

PROCREATION IS THE ONLY EMPIRICAL DIFFERENCE
In the case of same-sex marriage, procreation is the only empirical difference between gay and lesbian matrimony and the heterosexual ideal.
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CERTAIN POPULATIONS ARE IDENTIFIED/CONSTRUCTED AS DANGEROUS

Certain populations are identified/constructed as dangerous. We are not concerned with what is fair when making decisions about women's reproductive rights or same-sex couples' marital legitimacy. Rather, we are concerned with reforming dangerous subjects.
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ON THE SURFACE

MATCHMAKING PROCESSES AREN'T AS IMPORTANT AS a NO-FLY LIST
On the surface, understanding the computational processes that enable matchmaking may not appear as important as examining algorithms used for security purposes or constructing a no-fly list. However, the use and proliferation of these seemingly innocuous technologies have significant consequences.
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EVEN AS IT SHAPES OURSELVES

A CODE WE BARELY UNDERSTAND
Alexis Madrigal notes, "By drawing on data about the world we live in, they end up reinforcing whatever societal values happen to be dominant, without our even noticing. They are normativity made into code—albeit a code that we barely understand, even as it shapes ourselves." (37)
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EHARMONY

privileges those already privileged in our culture
By depending on stated and revealed preferences of users or social-scientific research informed by Christian beliefs, eHarmony privileges those groups already privileged in our culture. Flexible systems like those that power online dating could foreground any number of categories, but "hegemonic patterns" (in Galloway's terms) of race, gender, class, and sexual orientation remain front and center.
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DATA PREPARATION

"AUTHENTIC" SELF-IMPRESSIONS OF USERS AS THEY ARE AND ALWAYS WILL BE
user experience: personality test called Relationship Questionnaire & account setup

site processing: compiling user data and sorting into match categories

THE MATCH

CATEGORIZED, PRIORITIZED, AND RECONSTITUTED INTO A NEW FORMATION
Regardless of how the experience may feel for users, people are not matched with other people. They are categorized, prioritized, and reconstituted into a new formation, the match.

reproductive regulation

PRIVILEGING PROCREATION AS THE SACRED ACT
Imposing limitations on how women maintain their reproductive health appears to be less about preserving the sanctity of life and more about privileging procreation as the sacred act.
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dawn shepherd

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