CBC Digital Archives

Computer matchmaker

Described as "gigantic brains," computers were once so big they filled entire rooms. It all started with ENIAC, the world's first computer, that cracked and buzzed and weighed 27 tonnes. By the 1960s, ordinary Canadians were fascinated with these new high tech devices: IBMs could set up blind dates, select Christmas presents and mysteriously dispense money. A novel idea until computer technology replaced real people on the job. These days computers continue to revolutionize — this time changing the way people communicate by way of the Internet.

"Really short, or around 5'10", say, in heels?" asks a woman setting up CBC reporter Bill McNeil on a blind date. She uses an IBM computer to fix him up based on what he prefers in a woman - not too young and not too short -- and based on his own qualities (age 33 and a graduate of St. Francis Xavier University). Most men using the IBM dating system are like McNeil; they prefer a date who is slightly shorter and two years younger.

Once the preferences are processed, the computer spits out a phone number and description: Judy Perry, 29, and 5 foot 11 in heels. McNeil makes his way to the nearest phone booth to call his date.
. Experiments using computers for less utilitarian purposes, such as setting up blind dates, began in the 1950s.
. In the late 1970s, businesses and families began buying computers for word processing and performing calculations. As people's perceptions changed, they used computers for playing video games and computing financial information.
. Today, the popularity of computers rivals traditional mass media — newspapers, radio and television.

. After the introduction of the Internet into popular society, newspaper editors were concerned free articles published online would sway people to cancel their print subscriptions.
. In 2003, people frequently used Internet sites to set up blind dates. One popular site Nerve.com Personals boasts 650,000 regular members.
Medium: Radio
Program: Assignment
Broadcast Date: July 27, 1957
Host: Maria Barrett, Bill McNeil
Duration: 6:21

Last updated: February 15, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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