Missed Connections is a website project created by R. Luke DuBois in 2012. The artist created an algorithm that sifts through the “Missed Connections” section of Craigslist for nine different cities including New York, San Francisco, and London. There is a heaping number of fleeting moments described in this section, which prompts the question: if you post a missed connection, will the person ever find it? Because of this, DuBois makes an attempt at matchmaking by using the algorithm to find posts that refer to one another.
Dylan Schenker of The Creators Project describes the website:
“The interface itself is fairly simple—a black screen with two listings in piecemeal. Lines manifest between words, searching for similarities between the posts. If “estimated match” exceeds 85%, the program will open up a new tab and users can help play matchmaker.” Schneker, Dylan (2012, Feb. 16) Craigslist's "Missed Connections" Get Matched By An Algorithmic Cupid
DuBois called the work a community service experiment. In this new tab, the user would be directed to the original missed connections posts. They could then find the emails of the Craigslist posters and tell them that they’re match may have been found.
Missed Connections created commentary about the new age of dating, relationships, and everyday personal connections. We live in a time where modern romance can be quite fickle due to technology. Messages are muddled through texts. Our cities are so populated it seem we can’t connect to anyone. Many turn to dating sites or apps like Tinder, but the end goal for users can be vastly different. Despite these contemporary love hurdles, Craigslist’s “missed connections” still lives as a testimony that people still highly value those moments where we bond with another individual. Dubois’s work puts value in this and Craigslist’s service and is optimistic about uniting these possible soulmates.
The work also touches on what it means to help one another in a digital community, while also postulating how data collection could assist us aside from capitalistic expenditure. Dubois turns big data on its head, by making our vast information systems personal again. In fact, it is a central theme in his work. Matthew McLendon, Ringling Museum’s curator of modern and contemporary art, said to The New York Times of DuBois’s work:
“It’s a fascinating example of what portraiture can be in this age of data. How we construct our own personas no longer through oil painting but through 300-word descriptions of ourselves. As our lives become so data-driven, as we spend more time in front of our computers creating virtual realities for ourselves — what else is Facebook? — I think Luke is investigating what this means at this moment in a really profound way.” The New York Times (2014, Jan. 9) Portraits From Clips: R. Luke DuBois Mines Data to Reveal Art
DuBois’s work often deals with data constructs. He creates algorithmic and generative art to describe himself and others. In 2011, he created another generative work about modern romance called A More Perfect Union. In this work, he made a census of the United States based on online dating sites. The artist joined 21 different online dating sites as a straight man, straight woman, gay man, and gay woman. He then downloaded hundreds of thousands of online profiles. He plugged those profiles into an algorithm he created and found the most common word used in these profiles for each city of the country. All words are unique to each individual city. He then created maps for each state replacing city names with its online dating buzzword.
A More Perfect Union also creates commentary about our current dating landscape, but comes from an entirely different angle. Both words, being based in data, show how dense dating platforms can be and how hard it can be to sort through all the information. Missed Connections is much more personal because its end goal is help others find love. A More Perfect Union isn’t so personal. DuBois does not translate the personal information he collected into a personal outcome. The artist organizes the mass data in a different and unique way that is easy to understand for a wide audience. This work does not give agency to the user or audience. In Missed Connections, the user is left with playing cupid. DuBois preaches for a common goal: to help each other find love. Missed Connections is a platform for love, community, and creating more intertwined webs of person-to-person contact. A Perfect Union simply displays those complex webs.
R. Luke DuBois is not the only new media artist to have used Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” subsection to create art. Ingrid Burrington created a project called The Center for Missed Connections around the same time that DuBois was creating his online dating works. The work functioned as a research program that studied loneliness by using the “Missed Connections” section, specifically, Craigslist New York City. The aim was to classify what exactly a missed connection is and to then help others identify if they’ve actually had a missed connection. Both artists have a keen sense of navigating large data. Yet, they take different routes to unpack and display their findings. Burrington is an artist, as well as a designer and writer. This is directly reflected in her artistic work. The Center for Missed Connections consists of well-designed maps and charts, as well as written reports. Burrington’s work is more tongue-in-cheek than DuBois, but it’s final destination is a little less direct. Both artist use heavy research to create their works, yet the medium is entirely the message for Burrington. Dubois positions his generative work in a context that is easily received.
The website for Missed Connections is no longer available, so it’s hard to get a feel on how it actually operated. Despite this, the concept of this website is an important one. If two strangers meet offline, is it possible for them to reconnect online? How do we sort through all the data online to find what we need? These questions were being asked before the work was made and are still being asked four years later. The hidden algorithm behind the work may have been complex, but DuBois’s message was simple, clever, and well received. Media outlets across the country wrote about the experiment.
“I think it's time for the world to create a universal gesture of romantic interest that will obviate the need for DuBois' generosity. Every time you encounter someone in whom you might have a passionate interest, you should be able to extend your hand with your cell phone in it. No words should be exchanged or, indeed, needed. No embarrassment should be felt.” Matyszcyk, Chris (2012, Feb. 13) Can prof's algorithm reunite Craigslist Missed Connections
What is most exciting about the work is that it holds a strong feeling of hope. It believes that person-to-person contact in our real, physical world is still important. In the age where we often get lost in our digital identity, those fleeting personal connections still mean something.
- R. Luke DuBois is represented by bitforms gallery in New York City. The artist also resides there and is the director of the Brooklyn Media Center at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. His solo exhibition, Now, is currently on display at Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, Maine. The show will be open from March 31, 2016 – September 4, 2016.