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On the same wavelength; New lonely hearts beepers on trial.

It is an idea that could only come from America. Lonely hearts may find their soul mates not through cyberspace with a mouse, but at the beep of a lapel button.

According to Mr Rick Borovoy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, technology could be moved into the personal sphere to make friends and find love.

At conferences, for example, it could trigger excited conversations between academics with similar interests.

Mr Borovoy calls it computationally augmented human interaction. He has tried the idea at meetings, but found its biggest impact so far was on the street where marketeers are promoting gadgets with names such as Lovegety and Friend.Link as the modern way to make friends and meet lovers.

Love buttons could spark as big a social revolution as the Internet.

The Lovegety, a hit in Japan, is a pendant-shaped radio transmitter able to send out offers of six activities: fun, dance, love, movie, chat or drink. When a pink plastic female Lovegety comes within a few metres of a blue plastic male Lovegety on a similar setting, a green light flashes. Bolder owners can set it to make an excited beeping that makes their intentions audible to all.

More sophisticated systems are hitting the market, such as Friend.Link which can broadcast a potted summary of your interests and hobbies for matchmaking purposes. Friend.Link, also aimed mainly at teenagers, can also transmit short pager messages to any other system within an eight-metre radius, so a coy come-on line can be flashed to the object of desire.

Mr Borovoy and his fellow developers actually had much more high-minded motives when they began work on the thinking tag idea in 1996.

Their first development was a lapel badge with the wearer's name and job description. But along the top it had five light-emitting diodes that revealed the wearer's answers to five questions along the lines of "With whom would you rather have dinner: O J Simpson, Noam Chomsky or Peter Gabriel?".

Another thinking tag developer, Ms Michelle McDonald, has come up with the Matchstick for use in venues such as nightclubs.

"People can use the badges as ice- breakers - a way to get into conversations," she said.

The badges' next incarnation is planned to be more high-powered. Mr Borovoy intends to match people by their intellectual or business interests.

He admits more needs to be done about the obtrusiveness of the tags. A more discreet alarm, such as a pager that vibrates in a pocket, would be better than flashing lights and beeps.

How badge technology evolves will depend on public reaction, and for now love buttons seem to be making the running. Mr Brian Curin, who markets the English version of the Lovegety, said the big problem was getting enough on to the street to make it worthwhile for a person to buy one.

In Japan they were given away. Mr Curin prefers to rent out a few hundred to a conference or singles bar to spread the word. He confidently predicted there should be explosive growth for anyone who hits on a people-matching system with all the right features.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jan 18, 2000
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