Letter From the Editor: What It’s Like to Fall in Love in the Digital Age


Glenn Glasesr

Spring evenings in New York City can be magic. Sometimes a lingering winter chill will settle in just after dark, but I remember one Tuesday in April1 2010 as particularly spectacular: The air was cool instead of cold, carrying the first hint of a thaw, and it was crystalline—the better to watch the sun set from the window of my cab headed downtown. I was wearing a glen plaid blazer, one I’d settled on just an hour earlier after a half day of indecision. I remember these details so well because that evening was the first time I met the woman who would become my wife.

But not exactly the first time. Maybe I fretted over the details because she first laid eyes on me on a computer screen, the two of us introduced via Match.com2 profiles. In fairness, I was steering the dating site’s algorithm a bit: Even though I lived in San Francisco, I had tweaked my zip code to the New York City address where I stayed when in town on business. So after our initial digital introductions (a Favorite from her, a message3 from me, calls and then texts and then emails), we decided to meet in person. I wondered whether the reality would live up to the virtual—never a sure thing. In Amy’s case, reality did much, much better.


We had arranged to meet for dinner at Gramercy Tavern. I pushed through the crowd always clustered in the foyer and, scanning the bar, immediately recognized the glossy sable curls I knew from her profile. She was wearing a black leather jacket and dark jeans4, and she was on her cell. A second later, she turned around, still on the phone, and looked toward the door. As she recognized me, she smiled. I made my way over and heard her tell her mom5 she’d call back later.

Weeks earlier, when I had seen Amy’s photographs on Match, I had been instantly smitten, but in person she was even more phenomenal. She gave me a hug, and we exchanged pleasantries. She smelled wonderful, like morning light. I was suddenly feeling very nervous. Mediated by screens and keyboards, I’d been able to finely calibrate my so-called charm. But now, face-to-face, the technology couldn’t help me.


We sat down and worked through the first date punch list: jobs, friends (drink orders), interests, favorite travels (menu selections), exes, families, hobbies. Most of it we already knew from our online profiles, honestly. But now that all seemed unacceptably low-resolution. I lose some command of detail here because time sped up so profoundly, a blur of listening, talking, and laughing. Before I knew it, we were demolishing an insane cherry brown butter cake6 while I worked on schemes to get this amazing woman to see me again. Outside, I hailed Amy a cab and put her in it. I can’t remember if I asked to see her again, because my heart was pounding out of my chest and my brain was imploring me—begging me—to kiss her good-night. But I was petrified of being too forward, so I didn’t, and as I waved good-bye, a group of four drunk Wall Street bankers started yelling at me. “Kiss her, you idiot! What the hell is wrong with you!” and “Oh man! You blew it!”—followed by catcalls and laughter.

Thirty seconds7 later I turned to technology once more, breaking a basic rule: I texted her. But she answered. And we made plans to walk the High Line that Saturday afternoon. Guess what? I kissed8 her, not even an hour into our second date.

Animal Sex Is Dangerous and Horrifying. So Why Does Sex Exist at All?

You’ve probably heard about duck penises—that they’re shaped like corkscrews, and that females have vaginas that corkscrew in the opposite direction. That one’s easy. But animal sex gets a whole lot weirder, with sexual dismemberment, servitude, and freaky parasitism that makes the duck’s corkscrew seem practically…um…straight?

The current issue of our magazine is all about sex. Specifically, sex in the digital age. So when I was ordered asked to do a story about strange animal sex (because that’s apparently what I’ve become known for around here), the creatures above came immediately to mind.

But here’s the thing: In the animal kingdom, not everything is having sex. All kinds of creatures reproduce asexually, no mate required. So considering how complicated it can be to find a mate and then mate with it, why bother? Why have sex at all if it’s possible to skip it? And why does animal nooky get so weird and dangerous? It turns out the two questions are intertwined.

Sexual reproduction has a key evolutionary advantage over the asexual variety. The offspring of any particular couple necessarily vary—consider how much you differ from your siblings. This is of course because offspring get a random mix of genes from their parents. But asexual reproducers are simply cloning themselves, so they don’t benefit from this mixing.

Such variation is a driving force of evolution. Species tend to produce more offspring than the environment can support, and the ones that have beneficial variations survive and pass the genes responsible for them down to their kids. The weak get weeded out, and thus does a species adapt to its environment and its predators. Sexual reproducers, with their constant mixing of genes, are creating highly varied populations.

The male and female strepsiptera bug don’t have much in common. He looks like you’d expect an insect to, but the female is a legless, eyeless sack of eggs. She burrows into a wasp and pokes her oviduct through its exoskeleton, and the male comes along and fertilizes her. As the kids grow, they devour their mother from the inside out and erupt from the host.

The male and female strepsiptera bug don’t have much in common. He looks like you’d expect an insect to, but the female is a legless, eyeless sack of eggs. She burrows into a wasp and pokes her oviduct through its exoskeleton, and the male comes along and fertilizes her. As the kids grow, they devour their mother from the inside out and erupt from the host. Mike Hrabar

Because the offspring of asexual reproducers are so genetically similar, they’re more susceptible to things like outbreaks of disease. Sometimes sexual reproducers have kids that have a mutation that protects them from a given disease—the offspring with the mutation survive to mate and pass it down the generations. When you produce clones, if one of them doesn’t have the mutation, none of them will, leaving them vulnerable.

Asexual reproduction is no slouch, though. It’s beneficial because it allows creatures to skip the whole fighting-and-possibly-dying-for-the-right-to-mate thing. There are no females who have to put up with males, who quite frankly are a bit of a pain in the ass (I would know, as I am one and also a pain in the ass). Plus, if you can just clone yourself, you can propagate the species without finding a partner.

So both options have their ups and downs, but its with sexual reproduction where things get real interesting. If you thought we humans had problems between the sexes, males and females of other species are positively at war. The problem is competing interests: Males typically want to mate with anything that moves, while females have to be choosier. This is because it’s tremendously costly for females to not only produce the eggs, but in the case of mammals, to schlep the young around in their bellies. Males have it easy: They just produce energetically cheap sperm. Females also have to be careful when choosing a mate because they want to ensure their kids get good, strong genes.


This is what asexual reproduction looks like. You’re looking at a hydra, a tiny gelatinous creature related to jellyfish, and its adorable little clone. Peter Bryant

This leads to conflict, such as female ducks evolving that corkscrew vagina. One sex evolves a defense, and the other an offense, delicately balancing so as not to stop breeding altogether. (Control over reproduction is great and all, but you still want to be able to propagate the species.) This is part of the reason why sex gets so strange in the animal kingdom: The push and pull between the sexes results in some of evolution’s more creative accomplishments.

There are other reasons, of course. The male anglerfish, for instance, bites onto a female, fuses to her, and lives the rest of his life as her sperm factory. This is an evolutionary ploy to ensure that when an anglerfish couple manages to meet in the vast emptiness that is the deep sea, they can be damn sure they get some fertilization happening.

Males of lots of other species don’t get off so easily. Some of them just drop dead after they mate, having fulfilled their existential purpose in life: passing along their genes. Once completed, they peace out. Other times the females will just devour them after sex, known rather epically as sexual cannibalism. It gives the females a nice little energy boost as they begin developing their young.

Such are the eccentricities of making whoopee in the animal kingdom. Sex is weird because sometimes it has to be—it’s the price we pay for subscribing to this mode of reproduction. We don’t have the luxury of just making copies of ourselves, but by having sex we supercharge the variation of our young. Sure, sexual reproducers sometimes forfeit limbs or even their lives in the process. That just comes with the territory. Makes that one weird sex trick you do seem pretty prosaic, though, doesn’t it?

Crushing Amazon Would Be Nice, But Jet.com Also Wants to Boost Small Merchants



Everyone loves a David and Goliath story, and the tale of entrepreneur Marc Lore versus Amazon certainly looked like one back in 2009. As founder of Quidsi, the e-commerce company behind sites like Soap.com and Diapers.com, Lore had built one of the fastest growing startups in the country by daring to take on the giant of e-commerce that is Amazon. That is, until Amazon undercut Quidsi’s prices, leading to the eventual sale of Quidsi to Amazon in 2010.

Now, Lore is aiming his slingshot at Amazon once more. He has a new e-commerce company, Jet.com, and last week, it announced a $140 million funding round, after securing $80 million in funding last year.

Marc Lore.

Marc Lore. Jet

That Lore is targeting his former employer all over again is a story too juicy to ignore. And yet, while Jet.com is undoubtedly taking a swipe at Amazon’s audience, there’s another equally important David-and-Goliath battle driving the startup: the ongoing fight between local merchants and their giant competitors in the age of e-commerce.

Online, small merchants have traditionally struggled to keep up with the low prices of larger companies, because they don’t have the sales volumes to negotiate lower shipping prices or the national presence to make shipping cross country economically practical. And so, they either opt against selling online, take a financial hit on their online sales, or keep their prices comparatively high and risk losing customers to cheaper competition.

With Jet.com, Lore is hoping to level the playing field by letting small merchants hack their own supply chains. For starters, Jet doesn’t make money on the products it sells, so it has no incentive to force merchants into lowering their prices to increase sales, like other third-party marketplaces do.

Jet’s prices are already around 10 percent lower than they would be on any other site, at no cost to the seller.

Instead, it makes money by charging customers a $50 monthly membership fee, and rather than pocketing the commission fees it earns from sales, Jet passes that money on to customers in the form of savings. That means Jet’s prices are already around 10 percent lower than they would be on any other site, at no cost to the seller.

What really sweetens the deal for merchants, though, is that they can customize their own prices of any given item based on a variety of factors. For instance, they can opt to offer shoppers lower prices based on their proximity to the business or if shoppers waive the right to return an item. They can offer discounts when shoppers buy more than one item from them or elect a slower ship speed. All of these options serve merchants, by cutting down on supply chain costs.

“If you have a small retailer in a certain location, their cost to deliver within a 10-mile radius will be much lower than the national retailer, so the little retailer could win in their area,” Lore says. “That’s not insignificant. They may already be catering to the households who drive to the store, but they’re not winning the business of those who go online.”

Calculations, Calculations

For consumers, the process looks seamless. The more items you load in your cart, the cheaper other items from that retailer get. Waive returns at checkout, and more money melts away from the total. During a demo of the product, my savings on a Sonos wireless receiver and speaker came out to $160 compared to the lowest online price, to say nothing of the time I would have saved scouring the internet for the lowest price.


Screenshot: Jet

But giving merchants so much power means Jet had to be built in a fundamentally different way than most other e-commerce sites. According to Lore, the technology powering Jet looks a lot more like a real-time financial trading system.

“Every product we look at, we’ve repriced relative to what’s in your basket, looking at all the pools of inventory, applying all the rules retailers have set,” Lore says. “There could be hundreds of retailers who set rules, and you have to go through all of them to find out what the cheapest is and what the difference is. That’s a lot of calculations.”

And so, part of the thinking behind locating Jet’s headquarters in Hoboken, New Jersey is its proximity to Wall Street and the trove of financial tech talent there. “The technology has been super super hard,” Lore says. “It’s about getting it to the point where it can run these calculations at the speed we need it to run.”

Knocking It Down

This is one reason why Lore believes it would take years for his larger competitors, including Amazon, to build a copycat product. The infrastructure, he says, is just too different. “It’s like if you have a house made of wood, and someone says this is flimsy, we need a brick house,” Lore says. “You’d have to knock it down. You can’t just add bricks.”

Of course, for a company of Amazon’s size, no amount of price gouging is ever out of the question. And yet, some of Jet’s small retailers say there are other advantages to being on the platform that would likely be much tougher for Amazon to mimic. Unlike Amazon, for instance, Jet doesn’t compete with any of its merchants on product lines, and it allows merchants to market directly to their customers via email and other methods.

For Vicki Levine, CEO of the online haircare company, Folica, the ability to acquire new customers and communicate directly with them through Jet was a major selling point. “It’s about having the ability to get the direct relationship with the consumer, but still be able to sell through a third party,” she says. “Normally, it’s fairly one-sided. Jet’s really taking a two-sided approach.”

Take Your Selfie Game to the Next Level With a 3-D Printed Statue of Yourself

We love looking at images of ourselves. First there were Olan Mills portraits. Nowadays there are selfies and selfie-stick selfies and drone selfies.

If you’re wondering what comes next, Dusseldorf-based DOOB 3D thinks it has the answer—and contrary to what the company’s name suggests, it doesn’t involve getting high and watching Avatar.

DOOB 3D can produce a detailed, four-inch figurine of your body—yes, a 3-D selfie. Making one of these figurines requires a massive pile of hardware and software: 54 DSLRs, 54 lenses, a complex 3-D modeling pipeline, and an $80,000 full-color 3-D printer, not to mention a room-size scanning booth.

Factor that all in and the $95 asking price for a replica of yourself that’s roughly the size of most classic Star Wars action figures doesn’t seem so bad. A Barbie-esque 10-inch model goes for $395, while a 14-inch figure that’s more along the lines of an old-school G.I. Joe doll costs $695.

The company has four 3-D scanning booths (called “Doob-licators”) scattered in strategic locations throughout the world. There’s one in Dusseldorf, one in Tokyo, one at Santa Monica Place in Los Angeles, and one in New York City’s Chelsea Market. The company also says they’re set to add more U.S. locations soon, although details aren’t public yet.

In New York, the pop-up DOOB shop in Chelsea Market was a pretty big hit. According to Michael Anderson, CEO of DOOB 3D USA, the Doob-licator saw about 500 customers over the winter holiday season. About 10 percent of the booth’s customers got their pets Doob-licated.

“At first, (people got DOOBs made) mostly on a whim,” says Anderson of the holiday-season spike. Most people just walk up and stand in line, but you can also book an appointment in advance.

“Now that awareness has been built,” Anderson says, “there has been a shift where at least two thirds of our customers have planned ahead to get a DOOB.”

Each Doob-licator is outfitted with 54 Canon EOS Rebel T5i DSLRs, arranged in nine columns of six cameras each. You can make an appointment or just wait in line: A customer steps in, strikes a pose, and the Doob-licator operator fires all the cameras at once. That creates a full-body scan in a fraction of a second. The next step involves feeding all those 18-megapixel images through the company’s proprietary software, which creates a 3-D model of the subject.

The printing process requires more patience. The company operates three high-end 3-D printers to support its scanning operations: One in Germany, one in Tokyo, and one in Brooklyn. They all use 3D Systems’ ProJet 660Pro, a high-resolution (600 x 540 dpi) laser-sintering 3-D printer that creates full-color objects on the fly. The printer uses a resin polymer material, and the full range of CMYK color is added to each powder layer as it’s printed.

With a top printing speed of 1.1 inches per hour and a process that sometimes involves thousands of layers of powder, the process takes a few hours for the smallest-size DOOB and half a day or more for the larger ones. And depending on how many DOOBs are lined up in the queue, your mini statue takes between two and eight weeks to arrive in the mail.

Once you step inside that Doob-licator, it’s like international waters: You are largely unbound by laws and restrictions. Do you want to get naked? Go right ahead. Along with your nude statue, the company will also send you a 3-D PDF and keep your data in its database in case you want additional copies made (you can request that your data be deleted if that sounds too creepy).

DOOB 3D says it has done its fair share of nude scans, but it does draw the line at performing figurine plastic surgery. They’ll retouch large scars, but that’s about the only cosmetic procedure they’ll perform. They won’t trim your gut, fill in a bald spot, or augment what your mama gave you.

If you’ve got the loot (and the ego) you can request a life-size replica. The ProJet 660Pro is used for projects up to about three feet tall, so you’d be printed in smaller parts then assembled. Depending on how big the person is—and how many people are in the piece—a life-size statue can cost up to $75,000.

Purely in the interest of journalistic rigor, I got my own DOOB made for this story. I remained clothed. The scanning process took less than a minute, even when the technician did a couple of takes for safety’s sake. Immediately, I realized one benefit of booking an appointment in advance: You have time to think about what pose you want to do. Instead, I made a stupid face and flashed a Wingrove Mafia gang sign. I don’t know why, man, I just did. That’s what happens when you don’t prepare.

When the statue arrived in the mail a few weeks later, the process of opening the box, unwrapping it, and finding a miniature version of myself staring back at me was freaky. It was surreal and it was hilarious and it was eerie. The eyes are really the only things that didn’t look quite right—soulless and zombielike, which I guess is to be expected from an inanimate replica. Everything else was pretty much spot-on: The gracefully receding hairline, the wrinkles in my khakis, the outline of the wallet in my pants, the two-day stubble, the incredibly stupid look on my face. It looked like me, and with granular detail. Much more detail than you’d see in one of those old Starting Lineup action figures, and I’d say even more detail than those fancy, high-end McFarlane statues.

The DOOB itself is light and durable, but there’s a weak spot. Anderson actually warned me of it once I stepped out of the Doob-licator, and he was right. He said I might want to keep my fingers together during the scan, because they’re skinny and easy to break once they’re printed. Sure enough, one of my DOOB’s digits snapped off in my bag while I was transporting it to the office. So keep that in mind if you’re planning to do your own stupid gang sign or a one-finger salute. Now I know what I’d look like without a left pinky.

Actually, I know exactly what I’d look like without a left pinky.