Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Journey back to a time when the VCR was the world’s top/only dating app

Illustration for article titled Journey back to a time when the VCR was the world’s top/only dating app
Screenshot: Mark Davis

Before widespread internet access let people find dates by swiping through lists of matches equal to the population of small cities, cutting-edge romance technology consisted of going to physical spaces to talk into a camcorder while wearing your finest turtleneck and then watching loads of video tapes of potential partners.


Vox looked back at the videotape dating era by focusing on Great Expectations, a dating service that used the power of home video to connect singles from all over the place. What’s most striking about the service, which was started in 1976, is what a monumental pain in the ass it must have been to use. Each person’s profile consisted of a three-minute videotaped interview, a “one-pagesumé outlining the person’s height, locations, job, and so on,” and a whole lot of tape-watching in order to find someone who might be a good enough match to warrant asking out.

Still, as annoying and ineffective as this might seem now, the article reminds us that it was pretty groundbreaking for people trying to find a partner at the time. The company’s founder, Jeff Ullman, thought that videos showed “a more honest version of a person,” which is certainly the case with some of the big-haired charmers who helped advertise the company in a mid-’90s video.

Vox also notes that the “browsing” model of—and increasing focus on using video in—current dating apps owes a lot to companies like Great Expectations and an even earlier business called Videomate (whose ad promised that “you can see and hear your date on closed-circuit TV before you date”). For his part, Ullman says that his company “created every good thing that is on any dating service now.”

Read the rest of the article for more on Great Expectations and videotape dating or, we guess, find tips for how to get out there and meet someone by taping an awkward conversation with a video camera the size of a compact car.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.