It seems that there's been a bit of hoopla over the opening of the first ShidduchVision center in Lakewood. The purpose of ShidduchVision, as stated on its website, is as follows:
ShidduchVision™ IS A SAFE AND CONVENIENT VIDEO CONFERENCING PROGRAM THROUGH WHICH SINGLES IN DISTANT LOCATIONS CAN ‘MEET’ EACH OTHER. THIS SYSTEM USES SOPHISTICATED COMMERCIAL VIDEO CONFERENCING TECHNOLOGY IN A REFINED, TZNIUSDIK ATMOSPHERE, IN A CONTROLLED STUDIO ENVIRONMENT IN PRIVATE HOMES. ALL NECESSARY PRECAUTIONS WILL BE TAKEN TO PROTECT THE KEDUSHA AND TZNIUS OF THE PROCESS.
USING ShidduchVision™, THE SINGLES CAN HAVE THEIR INITIAL MEETINGS IN A PRIVATE, PLEASANT ENVIRONMENT, AND THEN DECIDE IF THEY WISH TO MEET IN PERSON.
(Yes, it's in ALL CAPS).
OK, I grant that there might be a few upsides to this: It allows for a guy/girl who come from out-of-town to see each other first before making a long trip in. Sometimes dates will fizzle just based on looks alone, and this will allow some people to avoid wasting travel time and money on dates that just won't lead anywhere.
I suppose that it might help with a guy/girl who is brand new to dating and nervous about spending a few hours alone (or as alone as you can be in a hotel lobby) with a guy/girl. This might prove to be a less threatening atmosphere by which the two can meet for the first time. Hopefully, after they've broken the ice, s/he will be more comfortable meeting in person.
There may be other positive developments as well. However, when I read the FAQ of ShidduchVision, I get a very uneasy feeling -- one that tells me that despite however well-intentioned this is meant to be, it will end up warping the dating process even more than it is already warped.
Consider the following "features" of the Shidduch Vision system:
In differentiating themselves from simple webcam usage, the SV site states:
With webcams there is no control involved, so singles who ‘date’ via webcam are working outside of the Shidduch system.
Huh? What "controls" are involved? Is there a monitor listening in to the conversation to make sure it doesn't stray from the straight and narrow? I don't believe that to be the case, based on the other FAQs. So then, what sort of "control" is there? And how is doing so "outside the Shidduch system?" If a duly-recognized Shadchan sets up a couple and privately arranged a webcam meeting then that's "outside the Shidduch system?" How is it any worse than if the Shadchan actually sent them on a physical date?
The FAQs also constantly emphasize the "znius" and "kedusha" of the dating system. Of course, if you think about it, considering that the couple are now totally alone in an isolated environment (certainly more isolated than a hotel lobby), perhaps it's possible that something inappropriate might be shown or discussed. The FAQs cover that as well:
Although inappropriate behavior is extremely unlikely, it could possibly happen (as indeed, it could on a traditional face-to-face date). Therefore we have put a reporting system in place so that anyone reported (by the single or Shadchan) to have acted in an inappropriate manner will be have their privileges of using the ShidduchVision™ system revoked permanently, and will be reported to his/her Rebbi/Rebetzin, etc. We will have zero tolerance for such issues.
Of course, if both parties wish to engage in ribaldry, then there is no way to catch them (officially). The system presented above relies on one party to report the other. Since the couple in the Shidduch Vision booth is now *more* isolated than they'd be in a hotel lobby, I would think that this presents more of an opportunity for inappropriate things to be said/seen.
Another concern I have is in the consequences involved for inappropriate behavior. The FAQ states that if one party acts inappropriately, s/he will have his SV privliges revoked and be reported to his/her Rebbi/Rebetzin. I have two major concerns with this:
1. Since when did Loshon Hara and public shaming become permissible -- even if the accusation is true?
2. Considering the fact that the conversation is not recorded and that no one is supposed to be monitoring it, how can anyone's charge be substantiated? Ultimately, it must come down to a he said/she-said. And without any proof at all they're going to embarrass the person in front of their rebbi/rebetzin and quite possibly ruin future shidduch possibilities?
Lastly, I have a concern on how this might become part of the "chumra creep" that is encompassing many of our communities. As I said at the top of the post, there are certain positives about this system and it can serve a useful purpose in a limited set of circumstances. What I am afraid of, however, is that this is going to go from being a useful tool to being the popular, then the norm and finally de rigueur. Do you think that in ten years or so a person will be looked down upon for going on a "physical" date right away without doing Shidduch Vision? I think it's a real possibility. I'm afraid that this will become just another "layer" of dating and another "rule" that singles have to follow, lest they be shunned. And the last thing we need to do is make the shidduch dating even more complicated and cumbersome than it is now.