My assumption in the screening was not just about personality, but looks too. I think most girls would want to see a bunch of "regular" (i.e. non-professional or fake) photos before they decide to meet you. In the end, I think that when you meet up in person, it does take on a totally different dimension that cannot be duplicated via chatting, e-mails and phone conversations over a week or two.
But I never thought of it as a waste of time, really. I definitely found my success percentages of finding a cool woman were better via on-line than otherwise.
You have a good point on alcohol... the great social lubricant.