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December 7, 2000

The Internet: Superhighway or Dating Tool?

http://www.jewishjournal.com/singles/article/the_internet_superhighway_or_dating_tool_20001208

It used to be that you had to take a guy's word for it. Now, all you need is a good search engine.

Among the Internet's many uses, following your stocks, ordering books, doing research, you can also find out if that guy you met at a party last night really does direct the show "Felicity."

That's how it started for me, how the Information Superhighway became a dating tool. I just had to check one little fact that seemed fishy. The next thing I knew, I was reading reviews of this guy's short film (excellent, I might add), learning where he went to school and that he did, indeed, direct episodic television.

I didn't stop there. At the time, I was working at a job that subscribed to the Cadillac of search engines, a little slice of digital paradise called Lexis-Nexis. This is perhaps the most advanced search engine available, used by lawyers and reporters and boasting news stories from every source, large and small. It also tells you whether someone is involved in legal cases, owns property, holds licenses and just about everything else short of blood type.

That's how I found out there was something fishy about my guy. From the looks of things, he seemed to co-own property. With his wife.

"Are you, by any chance, married?" I asked.

"Well, kind of," he replied. And I was kind of out of there as fast as you can say, "Sorry, pal, I have the Internet and I know how to use it."

Once I got a taste of the power of research, I couldn't stop myself.

The next guy I dated was all over the Internet. I thought I hit pay dirt when I found a story from his college newspaper. He'd returned to give a speech about a famous playwright for whom he'd worked. That's when I realized I could use the Internet to become his dream girl.

I found a way to mention that playwright in an e-mail, to drop other little facts, to make it seem, miraculously, that his soulmate had materialized.

I must say I felt like I had something of an unfair advantage, like I was peeking at his cards, sprinting on steroids, boxing with rocks in my gloves. Not that winning someone over is a competitive sport, but I felt like I was cheating, and that tends to take the fun out of any victory.

Ironically, it's a lot like my diary from the past two years is readily available to anyone with a computer and a modicum of curiosity.

One guy I went out with did a little search and before long, he was sitting down to read about 200 articles I'd written. That man had a lot of free time. Before I even knew him, he had read obituaries I wrote for a newspaper when I was 19. He knew about my crazy family, ghetto neighborhood, dateless New Year's Eves, desire for a cat and worst of all, the trail of broken relationships I've left in my wake. Just a few years ago, a guy would have to be a serious psycho to head on down to the library and start working those user-unfriendly microfiche for information; now, it seems almost remiss if he hasn't at least Yahoo-d his way through a couple of my columns.

It's a conundrum. I don't want a guy to know everything about me when it's too soon for him to see the warts, but I appreciate when someone cares enough to snoop the very best.

Obviously, I'm not the only Nosy Nellie on the Internet. I've gotten dozens of Spam e-mails selling me snoop software.

"Ready to know? Get the software that was banned in 50 states! Why? Because these secrets were never intended to reach your eyes ... Get the facts on anyone!" said one ad.

These services offer to "find out secrets about your relatives, friends, enemies and everyone else!" Perhaps spam e-mailers get paid by the exclamation point.

Nothing quells anxiety like research. I can't get enough of it. Before buying my car, I read all I could on the reliability of the Ford Taurus. Before buying my laptop, I pored over computer magazines. Why wouldn't one put equal effort where one's safety or at least dignity is at stake? The problem here is that my computer crashes constantly and my Taurus just went in for a $600 rehab. It seems that while research is satisfying, there are some things you just have to test drive.

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