Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shidduchim IV: Realizing the Vision

The gemara says in Sanhedrin (107b):

א"ר שמעון בן אלעזר יצר תינוק ואשה תהא שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar says, "The yetzer hara, a child and a woman - these three things one must push away with his left hand while drawing them close with his right hand."

This seems to be the gemara's way of saying that there are certain things in this world that we just "can't live with them" - שמאל דוחה - and we "can't live without them" - ימין מקרב . Things of which too much interaction with them can ruin us but no interaction at all is fruitless. Thus, to the extent that is necessary, we must draw them near, but beyond what is necessary, we must distance them. (Note that this concept is very similar to the Parah Adumah concept that I discussed in an earlier post.)

In today's world, I can think of no better example of שמאל דוחה וימין מקרב than the Internet. Many of our Gedolim have maintained that it is something that we must be דוחה בשתי ידים . IMHO, I think this policy needs to be reviewed.

About 2 months ago, I submitted a post (click HERE to view) advocating the implementation of computer web cams at the initial stages of shidduch dating. All of the pros and cons (that I could think of) were enumerated in the post. My angle was that it is high time to take advantage of the power, ubiquitousness, and cost-efficiency of the Internet to "revolutionize" the dating process in frum circles. I mentioned that for such an initiative we can expect resistance from 2 entities - those being (1) the female population who carry a natural aversion to initiating a relationship on camera, and (2) the individuals within our Rabbinic leadership who unwaveringly maintain that the proper response to Internet usage is דוחה בשתי ידים as opposed שמאל דוחה וימין מקרב .

It appears that outside of my regular limited readership, my post did not draw too much attention. Nevertheless, subsequent to my post I was introduced to a very similar initiative called ShidduchVision that is currently in the developmental stage. This initiative won the favor of the Rabbanim in Baltimore and New York and of Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum, one of the most popular and widely read journalists in the Torah world. Rabbi Rosenblum promptly wrote a glowing writeup on it which was carried by Mishpacha magazine and Cross Currents.

The ShidduchVision concept is the exact same concept as the web cam concept that I was promoting. It is meant to address the exact same issues that plague the frum dating world: distance, expense, and time constraints. Yet, opposed to an Internet-based web cam system, the proposed ShidduchVision is meant to be a direct point-to-point (PTP) non-Internet cable-based system. This is meant to circumvent the drawbacks of the Internet and to gain widespread Rabbinic endorsement.

Unfortunately, this system would entail its own set of drawbacks.

There are 2 major advantages of the current non-Internet ShidduchVision initiative:

  1. It does not carry any of the hazards of the Internet

  2. Assuming it uses high-grade professional equipment, it will deliver a clearer, more real-life image of the other party than a household web cam.
There are 4 major shortcomings with the current non-Internet ShidduchVision initiative:
  1. It is not powerful

  2. It is not ubiquitous

  3. It is not cost-efficient
  4. It is not in operation

I will be a bit more specific.

Let's talk about the ubiquitousness first. For good or for bad, most of us have access to the Internet. Web cam technology is part of it and is being perfected all the time. At the simplest level all one needs is a USB Web cam which usually costs less than $50. Today, there are computer monitors (and laptops) that have them built in. With this minimal equipment and any of scores of free or low cost service providers, any two points on Earth can be immediately on-line. Thus, a boy in Lakewood can date a girl anywhere in the world from the comfort of some local controlled facility.

The cable-based system involves a cable-enabled "studio". I do not know the cost of such a thing, I understand that it will be substantially more costly than just a computer and a web cam. Every community that wants to participate in ShidduchVision will need to have such a studio and every individual that wants to use it will have to physically get over to there and pre-schedule time slots. Herein lie the limitations.

The system will take quite a while to set up and take hold. Nobody who invests in pilot studios on the East Coast will see any money back until they exist in the Out-of -town communities. But those places won't build them until it is working in the East.

Catch-22.

And smaller communities may not find it worthwhile to build them at all. While Chicago, LA, Detroit and Toronto will most likely have a studio or two, what about South Bend, San Diego, Boca Raton, and Houston? My guess is that if the "studio" is very costly, nobody will invest in them and expect to see any money back. And even if so, it won't happen until the program is operational and has proven itself in larger communities. Consequently, the more boondoxy the town, the less likely it is to build a studio. Yet, the more boondoxy girls are the ones who will need it the most. They are meant to be the prime benficiaries of this system. Yet not only will they be left in the cold, but the system could possibly work against them ("Okay, I don't mind checking into the St. Louis girl 'cuz they have ShidduchVision there, but the one from Indianapolis... forget it!")

Incidentally, even in Chicago, LA, Philadelphia, etc., if the facility is in Fairfax or West Rogers Park or Northeast and the girl is from Ventura, Buffalo Grove, or Bala Cynwyd (this is becoming more common these days), the whole effectiveness of the system is compromised.

Even worse Catch-22.

Let's talk about scheduling. With the web cam system that I am trying to promote, the girl uses a personal web cam enabled computer that will be located in her own home or that of a neighbor (or possibly an office where she may be working). As long as she has access to her nearby computer, the ShidduchVision system would only need to worry about having a "studio" (i.e. workstation) available to the boy. With the PTP cable system, there will need to be a proctor responsible for scheduling at both ends. I do not envy such a job. For example, what if Cleveland or Chicago has only one studio and a boy wants it at 8:00 to "date" a girl in NY, but a guy in Lakewood wants to "date" a Chcago girl around the same time but cannot because the Chicago studio is booked? Then it's booked on 3 or 4 other convenient times for the Lakewood boy, who finally says, "What do I need to deal with Chicago?"

One potential advantage of video dating would be to enable boys to take advantage of bein-HaZmanim when they can date with less bittul Torah. With the PTP system, all the Chicago and Detroit and Toronto and LA (and Memphis and Houston, etc.) guys who learn in Lakewood but are now home in Chicago, Detroit...Houston, etc. would need to use the local studios thus competing with the local girls for very limited and prime time spots.

Note that with the cable system the MAXIMUM capacity is 1/2 of the amount of existing studios (if, by some crazy miracle, every single facility is being requested). With the web cam system, there can be as many "dates" going on as there are workstations.

Besides the fact that scheduling would be a total nightmare and make the system undesirable, my assumption is that in a PTP cable system in a country-wide (or world-wide) network, the traffic would need to be routed through a single hub. This means that if the hub is down for any reason, the entire network is out of service.

Don't get me wrong. I am writing all this because I really think that the ShidduchVision concept is a step in the right direction and I would like to see it come about. But it doesn't pay if it's not going to work. I am not only very pessimistic that a cable based PTP system will work - it is trying to solve today's problems with yesterday's technology - but even my optimism is shrouded in pessimism. I really think that a PTP ShidduchVision would be short-lived.

This is because the main issue holding back a system such as this is acceptance from the population as an effective and beneficial method of dating. As I have written, the female side of the equation is very camera shy to say the least. If any kind of a video dating system takes off and gains acceptance, then the masses will automatically adapt the simplest and cheapest method. This means that if an expensive cable-based PTP ShidduchVision were to be implemented and succeed to melt the ice on video dating, I have no doubt that the dating world, as frum as it is, would automatically shift to the cheaper and more efficient Internet by themselves, thus leaving the PTP ShidduchVision to pay off their mortgage with little income.

Let's cut out the middleman and go straight to where the system will work!

The idea of video dating has already received the endorsement of American Rabbanim. Rabbi Moshe Heineman has been quoted to say that "ShidduchVision will revolutionize the world of shidduchim." I don't see this happening with a PTP system at all and, at the very least, not until it is operational in at least 30-50 locations (probably more), which will not be anytime soon.

Rabbi Yonoson Rosenblum relates that:

A few weeks ago, the Novominsker Rebbe told me that he views the so-called Shidduch Crisis, as the most devastating problem facing the Orthodox community – a matter of “dinei nefashos.”

If it is truly a dinei nefashos, then we are facing a situation of לא תעמד על דם רעך and we must save neshamos with any practical means at our disposal. We cannot afford to be דוחה בשתי ידים and fight an Internet that has already beaten us. יצר תינוק ואשה תהא שמאל דוחה וימין מקרבת If the Gedolim endorse this system and are practical, they will endorse the Internet method.

If they do not, either they do not truly endorse the system or they are not truly practical.

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