Yes, none of this is particularly novel internet content or novel teenage behavior, yet it’s comforting to be reminded that Generation Z is so prepared and ready to take their lives online. They are literate in what this kind of socializing demands—moderators and group policies and no recording of the Zoom calls. Their impulse to congregate and post constantly may be often mocked by older adults, but now that impulse is serving them well. They were ready for their new reality, and they’re accepting it with grace (and jokes about a tree shaped like a butt).
The party I attended on Friday night had some competition. Another Zoom party that was advertised in the group, titled “Friday night is club night,” started one hour earlier, and a third, titled “QuarantBae,” was offering to set up thousands of blind dates at once. The latter was hosted by a new quarantine-inspired virtual dating service (also called Ok Zoomer). The tagline on the nascent company’s website is “Love for everyone … at least six feet apart.”
Once a week for the past three weeks, Ok Zoomer creators and Yale University computer-science juniors Ileana Valdez and Patrycja Gorska have been posting a Google form to the Self Quaranteens group. Each Friday, they use a matchmaking algorithm to sift through the responses and set up blind Zoom dates between college students all over the country. This week, they told me, they made 13,000 matches. Right now, the matches are based on class year, rudimentary sentiment analysis—artificial intelligence that can gauge the emotional tone of language—and some keyword searching that mines bios for any evidence of shared interests. Otherwise, it’s pretty random, like the trendy new pandemic equivalent of Chat Roulette, which is called Zoom With Strangers.
Drew Weiss, a 21-year-old Wesleyan University student currently riding out the school closure at home in Philadelphia, signed up for a match this week, saying he doesn’t expect to have a meaningful connection over this kind of medium, but still: “If it becomes the type of thing where it’s like Oh hey, I made a new friend, and I FaceTime them once every couple weeks, that’s pretty cool, you know?” Roshni Edalur, a 20-year-old University of Texas student, told me she felt the same way—she’s been in a long-distance relationship before and would never do it again, but it could be fun to talk for a few days to someone new. “We’re all bored. I love my friends, but I can’t talk to the same people every day.”
Gorska and Valdez are taking Ok Zoomer seriously as both a dating service and a company, and they plan to launch a full app in the next week, but they recognize that a lot of people are trying it due to sheer boredom. “I’m just reading our comments right now, and people specifically say, like, I’m bored, I’m at home, I just really want to do something,” Gorska told me. “Someone literally said, Please end my lonely suffering.”