Must Love Cats
It all started out as a dating aid. Helping people to find their perfect match, y’know?
I mean, there were already dating websites, and they did pretty much the same job; listed your preferences, your interests, likes and dislikes. They made your true inner-self available at a single click, laid open and bare and optimised for key search terms. And they were great, for a while. Match-making was quicker and more accurate than ever before, but… well, you’ve got to admit, they were a bit impersonal. Sort of cold and robotic. It seemed to me that the next obvious step in dating technology was to bring back the missing element.
Bring back the human touch.
Sure, online you could find your “soul mate”. But humans are emotional, irrational things. We can’t just fall in love by staring at a screen, we need to meet, talk, touch (and I’d seen enough profiles to know how popular that last one is). I knew there must be some way to combine the information given by online dating with the experience of face-to-face socialising. And that’s how it struck me; wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could read someone’s dating profile while you were meeting them in person? Say you’re in a club and you’re looking to find that special someone. What if you could remove all the awkwardness of “I’ve already got a boyfriend”, or “I’m not into girls”? What if you could take one look around the room and just see, literally see, who was looking for a relationship, who they were interested in, what their hobbies were, all of it. Every single detail.
I went through a lot of designs at first. The glasses worked great, flashing the information in front of your eyes like you were in some old sci-fi flick, but it turned out that Google had most of the patents. I tried turning it into a helmet, but that was a complete dead-end. No one would have worn it. Then there was the wristwatch version that I quite liked, but my focus group (well, friends and family) tore it to shreds.
I was about ready to give up on the whole idea, when I realised I was ignoring a crucial detail. This was supposed to be a device for people who struggled with dating. They weren’t gonna want to broadcast to the world that they were using my invention to help them find a partner. They wanted something subtle. Something they could hide from their mates or their parents.
And that’s how I got my answer: a chip.
Well, two chips, actually. One put in the arm, the other in the head. The arm is the signal; it projects your details – your ideal partner, what you’re looking for in a relationship, your favourite band, all that kind of stuff – and the head is the receiver. This means that you can walk into a crowded room and instantly know who else in that crowd is looking for a partner, and whether the two of you might be a Match. Ok, so implanting a chip seems extreme to some, but the only people who know that you have it are others who have done the same. That means no embarrassment. No judgement.
It took off in a big way. You know that already, but it bears repeating. This was the hot new gadget, the must-have for singles and flingers. University students in particular loved it, and I hear it transformed the club scene completely. It did well abroad, too. LGBT communities across the globe embraced it as a new way to find partners away from the glaring eye of the authorities. After all, the sort of people who wouldn’t approve weren’t exactly going to go out and get the implant for themselves, so they didn’t notice a thing. Unless you had the receiver chip, the profiles were completely invisible, but for those who did get it a whole new world of information was opened up.
We didn’t even push it. Honestly, we barely advertised it. We didn’t need to. It spread through word of mouth. People wanted it. People really wanted it.
I suppose what I mean is, it’s not my fault.
I didn’t even know they’d started using it. The police, I mean. It wasn’t like I was given a government contract or anything; I only found out about it when it was on the news. They’d just busted this massive paedophile ring, and the detective was on and said it was thanks to my device. Some of the officers had got the implants, apparently, and they just went around reading people’s sexual preferences. And sometimes, ridiculous as it sounds, they stumbled across someone walking down the street with ‘looking for supplier - 8 or younger, girls preferred’ blazing out of their arm-chip. It was that easy. (This was when everyone was a lot more honest with what they included in their profiles. Well, it was safer to be back then.)
No one complained – there was no big outcry about civil liberties or any of that. It’s strange, looking back. Sure, the police were making arrests based on what they found in dating profiles, but I really don’t think anyone thought much of it. It was only paedophiles and rapists, after all.
And for quite a while, it was only them. Who knows, maybe at that point it did some good. I never saw the statistics, the before and after, but maybe it did lower the assault rates. Maybe it did save some poor kid somewhere. I’d like to think that. That maybe it did.
But then somewhere along the line it… changed.
I couldn’t say who was first. Maybe it was the S&M crowd. You know, bondage and that. Or it could have been those people who dress up as babies, or fantasize about being eaten. It was something like that. Some people who your average Joe wouldn’t give the time of day.
Anyway, they’d get stopped in the street and searched, or kicked out of night clubs or beaten by mobs. Restaurants started installing these sensors that detected keywords in people’s profiles so that they could keep out ‘disreputable clients’, people whose interests and preferences were bad publicity. It started with restaurants, at least. Before long it was being used in bars and hotels, supermarkets, schools, libraries. Churches.
From what I recall, there wasn’t any individual, or any specific group, that was leading all of this. Maybe you remember it differently, but I can’t think of a single name, no particular politician or celebrity or religious leader who people were rallying behind. That was part of the problem, I think, part of what made it so dangerous. You can fight an individual. You can point out their bias, find their agenda. But this wasn’t one person, or one group. This was a wave, and everyone got swept up. These search-term sensors that had popped up everywhere just kept getting added to, excluding more and more people. It got to a point where you couldn’t buy a loaf of bread if the word ‘fetish’ appeared anywhere in your profile.
Then suddenly, but somehow without anyone noticing, it stopped being about the sexual stuff. You could get kicked out of a shop for having the wrong hobbies, or refused a plane ticked based on your taste in music. I hear that in London, you couldn’t get a taxi if your profile included the phrase ‘single parent’, and the landlord across the street from me kicked out an old lady when he found out that she had the word ‘bi-curious’ buried in her About Me section. She’d been a tenant of his for more than 20 years. I never saw her again after that.
Most people didn’t seem to mind. They certainly never complained. Why would they? They were never denied service, never attacked, and the police still answered their calls. They didn’t even argue when installing the chips became mandatory (I never saw a penny from that, by the way. All things considered, I suppose I’m glad…). It was somehow accepted as being done for the greater good, for the safety of the public. We had to protect our children from whatever the fashionable threat of the moment was.
As you know, in the time since then, things have really settled down. That’s probably because there are the Teams, now. They deal with anyone who’s not a Match. One day a pink van parks up outside, and then you disappear. So most of the radicals have gone to wherever it is that they end up. I don’t know where. Even though it happens in broad daylight, even though most of us have seen it happening, it’s still all a bit hush hush.
There are those who complain, of course. Some even publicly call for change, but as long as they’re Profile Compliant they’re safe. After all, ‘passionate’ is still an approved trait, and you’d be amazed at all the anti-government rebels who have been saved by their unanimous love of long walks on the beach.
Still, every few weeks some more words are filtered out, some more people find out that their profiles are no longer a Match, and the Teams are mobilised.
A few minutes ago a pink van parked up outside. I can hear them now, charging up the stairs. If I’m lucky, they’ll stop to scan the neighbours, and I’ll have maybe half a minute.
Half a minute before they kick the door in.
I’m not going to run. What would be the point? There’s nowhere I could go, not with a profile like mine. No, best to wait for them. I just wanted to get all of this recorded while I had the chance.
I saw it coming, really.
I wasn’t going to be a Match forever.
And I always was more of a dog person.