St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Computer Dating 1966

Did this computer card have the match for a perfect woman for Russ? It reads, Russell Hanson  Your date is at 7:15 with 016 in ballroom.  

Inside the small brown envelope was a computer punch card, one of those tan colored, don’t spindle nor mutilate items, with a clipped corner and rows of numbers and holes.  Its ordinary appearance belied its importance.   Printed in black across the top was the identification number, 016, that of the girl on the River Falls campus that most closely matched me, my computer selected soul mate.

 “Computer Match” posters had been plastered around the campus where I was a freshman physics and math student.   Dr. Brown, my calculus teacher, said the campus computer gurus had programmed the brand new IBM 1620 computer to match people based on questionnaire.   It cost $5.00 to enter and included a get-acquainted dance where you met your perfectly matched computer date.    

The Student Voice newspaper article for Jan 10, 1966:

Computer Will Play Cupid for Dance
“ In this modern age of science and technology, Cupid and his stinging arrows of love can take on many forms. Students at Wisconsin State University at River Falls will be concerned about this soon when an IBM Computer 1620 here tries to play a modern Cupid. The students will probably do nothing to stop the mechanical mentality from matching couples together for a Valentines Day Computer Dance.”

“Students will begin filling out questionnaires this week about their likes, dislikes, and interests, to see if a machine can find a girl or fella with the same interests.”

“The date matching is based on the theory that like personalities attract. The computer \will count the number of identical responses on the questionnaires. Dates will be those with the highest number of similar answers”

“The questionnaire consists of 38 questions about age, height, religious preference, appearance, how important it be that one's date be attractive, dancing ability, travel experiences habits, political ideas, scholastic ability, interest in sports, TV art, literature and student status!  There is even a question about the number of children you would like in your marriage.”

“Most of the students interviewed expressed enthusiasm and curiosity about the possibility of finding the perfect date.”

  I had been at River Falls long enough to know that I wasn’t going to flunk out—a fear of many freshmen students away from home the first time.  I hadn’t dated – just kept my nose to the grindstone with my full load of hard classes—Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, English and Honors.  Girls on campus were fussy with the 2:1 ratio, and in those days, most of them were out to find a husband.  With my plan to go on to graduate school, I didn’t have room for dating seriously. 

After some more arm twisting by Dr. Larson from the Physics department, my major area, and instructor of the Honors class, a fascinating course for students who had good grades and wanted to talk about big ideas, I filled out a form.  Dr. Curtiss O. Larson was brand new that year as a physics professor and knew some of my cousins from Barron, WI where he had grown up.  He was only 25 years old while I wasn’t too far behind at 19, and admired him greatly. 

    I showed the form to my friends on 1st floor Johnson Hall South, the dormitory so new that we didn’t have curtains on our windows until spring of that year (you sort of get used to living a public life after awhile).   Six of them were sophomores, pre-veterinary students, very studious types.

 At that time, Wisconsin did not have a veterinary school, so WI veterinary students had to apply in MN, IA or MI. They tried to maintain straight A’s so they would be selected in a very highly competitive entrance process.  They had gotten together and all selected adjacent rooms so they could study together and try to have a quiet dorm experience—a rarity.  I was lucky to be assigned to the same studious dorm area.    The rest of us respected their studious ways and I fell into the same habits as they did.

    “I don’t have time or money for dating” said my friend Dennis from Bloomer, “I need to spend all my time to get A’s.  If I don’t get into veterinary school, I will have to be an MD,” he joked knowing the entrance requirements for an MD program were easier than the veterinary schools.    My roommate Al, thought it was pathetic that I would need a computer find a date.  He was so bummed out that his HS girlfriend of 3 years had broken up with him just before he left for college, he was off women for good!

   I was still pretty shy with girls.  I was one of four boys at home, and a studious type and didn’t have a clue what to talk about with girls.  In those days hunting, sports, farming, science and math were my topics of interest—none of which seemed to be interesting to any girls I knew.   My fundamentalist upbringing led me to think fraternizing with the opposite sex was fraught with danger, and we all would do best to emulate Joseph and Mary and have virgin births.

    This dance was a huge decision.  What convinced me into submitting the form was the idea I might actually get matched with a girl I could actually talk to.  I filled out every answer honestly, except for one where I said something like I was serious and ready for marriage rather than the truth—the exact opposite. 

   With some trepidation, and lots of encouragement from Dr. Larson to his Honors students, I submitted the questionnaire.  The dance was still almost two months off to allow the computer people to keypunch each answer onto a computer card and then run several hundred people through the matching program.  As the date drew nearer, I got more and more nervous.   I realized I didn’t want to do this! 

    I had kept Dennis up-to-date on the process.  He was a little wistful that he hadn’t signed up himself.   “Why don’t you take my date?” I told him, “you and I probably would have had similar answers.”  When he didn’t say an outright “No,” I started working on him and with a bribe of $10 and the entrance fee paid, he was convinced and agreed to relieve me of finding out my perfect match.

   “Are you looking forward to the computer match dance?” Dr. Larson asked me after class one day.   “I changed my mind and a friend of mine is going instead” I replied sheepishly, knowing he had worked on the computer match end of the process.

  “You can’t do that!  After all the work everyone has done to make this a success, you just can’t pass it off on someone else.  You go!” in a tone that said if I didn’t go, my next three years of Physics might become very difficult.

    “Dennis, I got in trouble today with Dr. Larson.  He insists I have to go to the dance and I can’t pass it off to you.”   Now, I had done a superb selling job in getting Dennis to take Miss Computer Match off my hands and he resisted giving her up.  I had convinced him that our match would surely be a mixture of Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein.   Well, another $10 dollars and paying for his new necktie bought especially for the dance returned her to me. 

    The big night came.   The dance was to be at the large low-ceilinged brand new Campus Ballroom with live music.  We were to show up, pick up an envelope with our perfect match number, then pair by pair be brought to the center of the floor and introduced to each other and to the public.   

    I wore dress slacks, a white shirt with thin blue vertical strips and Dennis’ new tie At that time, for one of the few times in my life, I was relatively slim having lost a lot of weight the last year of HS in football.  I was still a Brylcream greaser, no beard and black horn-rimmed glasses, your non-descript, average looking science guy with only a well developed sense of humor going for me.    

    The emcee called off number 16, and I took that long walk from the group of men on one side of the room into the center.  For a few moments, no one came forward.  Then from the women’s side I watched as my perfectly matched computer date detached herself from the crowd and came to meet me in the center. 

   It was Rebecca (name changed to protect the innocent), from the Freshman Honors class.  We knew each other only from across the classroom and having heard each other answer our share of questions competently. 
   Rebecca was slim, several inches shorter than me.  She wore a white blouse and modest knee length brown skirt.  Her hair was short, straight and dark.  She had pretty brown eyes.  She was, I thought, much prettier than I remembered from class, actually very attractive.  I told her straight away that I was mostly a non-dancer.      

   We talked a little about our answers to questions on the match form.  She liked math a lot and science almost as much!  She had graduated from Grantsburg high school and I from St Croix Falls.  Our birthdays were only 5 days apart.  We were both in roughly the same math-physics program in college and both doing reasonably well away from home. Both of us were from farms.  Both of us were used to good grades and working hard.

    We talked a lot, swayed a little to some slow numbers, and stayed until just before 12 pm, the time when girls were locked out of Hawthorne Hall on Saturdays (girls had hours, guys didn’t).  There was no kiss at the door, but I do remember telling Rebecca that I had enjoyed getting to know her and would see her in class next day.

    When I got back to the dorm, Dennis wanted his tie back and a full debriefing on “his” perfect computer match date.   He knew her from class too.  I told him she was eager to get away from the farm and had her sites set on the city.  “Well, she wouldn’t do for a veterinary’s wife then,” he said sadly letting go of his perfect match.  In those days, veterinarians were mostly farm animal folks. 
      Over the rest of the school year, we dated occasionally—a movie, visits at the lunch room and library and some evenings at the movies shown in the student center.  We both were on limited funds and no car and spent a lot of time trying to keep up with our homework—huge numbers of problems from math and science classes. I liked her very much—although we were probably more good friends than anything else.  We increasingly spent time together—actually talking about things we both were interested in. 

     We dated and hung around together sporadically in next couple years—both so heavily into studies, we didn’t have much free time.  I was sure I was going to stay in school for many more years to go on to grad school in physics and didn’t want to think about anything serious until I was all done with that.  Rebecca planned to get a job after college.  “My Dad looks at my college as an investment.  He expects me to get a good job soon!”   

     After semi-final exams one quarter during my junior year, I went out with some of my male friends to have a burger and a beer at Beldenville, the under 21 drinking town near River Falls. While I was there, I met a former HS classmate, Laurie, who was out with her girlfriends having finished their exams too. 

We visited briefly and she asked me if I had a car.  “I am feeling a little dizzy, and I wonder if you might drive me back to the dorm.  My friends don’t want to leave yet.  I shouldn’t have come along with them.”

“Sure, I’m done and ready to go back anyway.”  Laurie was a year younger than me, and we didn’t know each other very well.  We talked a little about school and high school on the short drive back.  I helped her out to the car and into the entrance desk of the girls dorm – as far as males were allowed.

“Thank you Russ, I am going to lie down and hopefully things will be OK in the morning” she said and gave me an old friend type quick hug and kiss. 

It turns out that a kiss at the dorm entry can get passed around very quickly on a small campus and misinterpreted.  The next time I saw Rebecca, she told me she heard that I kissed a girl at the entry was upset.  “I don’t want to talk about it.  You just aren’t serious.  I don’t want to date anymore.”     

That was true, I thought, as I remembered lying about this very same item on the questionnaire.   I did make an attempt to explain—I wrote a long letter (no email, no texting, not even a private phone in the dorms) and apologized and promised to think more seriously about the future.  However, I didn’t persist as I knew she was right and so we ended.   After graduation, I never saw her again.  She was an interesting friend, and I missed her for a long time.  It is sad how difficult it is for men and women to be just friends.

Some years later, I met my first wife, Margo.  We worked together in the same place and we got to know each other quite well before we started dating, so went into it with our eyes open.    However, if we ever decide to split, I think I would go ahead and try one of those computer matching services again.  As Margo says “Surely someone out there deserves you more than I do!”

   The Rambler’s perfect date was found for him by this IBM 1620 computer back in 1966.  It matched questionnaires submitted by River Falls students.  Sadly, he found out that he should have answered the questions honestly for it to work best.  All was not lost, as he did fall in love with the computer.