Digital Indiscretions – Part One: Connection

Digital Indiscretions is a three part series on infidelity in the age of technology. The series is based on Dr. Ebony Utley’s interviews with U.S. women about their experiences with infidelity. Interviewees chose their own pseudonyms to protect their privacy.

It is easier to connect with people in the age of technology. We manage relationships by phone, text, video chats, social media, and social haptic networks. Not even physical touch is out of our reach.

Fundawear, for example, is underwear designed by Durex that “allows touch to be transferred over the Internet.” Frixion allows partners to stimulate each other no matter their distance. Geography is no longer a reason to reject a potential relationship. However, the same technologies that bring two people closer can also bring a third person into the relationship, and with it, the potential for indiscretion.

Interviewees recounted several stories of their partners’ digital indiscretions. Dawn’s husband initiated “an inappropriate Facebook/phone affair” with a woman he knew thirty years ago in high school. Other husbands had profiles on PlentyOfFish.com and AshleyMadison.com. India’s husband met his second wife on MySpace while he was still married to India.

Women also initiated online relationships. The possibility that Charlotte would leave her husband became even more certain after she reconnected with a friend on Facebook who is now her fiancé. Ebony decided her husband’s affair was no reason to break up their family. She admitted to being unhappy until she discovered the computer herself.

“So my niece turns me on to the computer. Mind you I don’t know nothing about a computer. She tells me, ‘Auntie you oughta see on this computer. You can go on these sites and you can do this and you can do that.’ So one day I go over to her house and I’m looking at her computer and they have this site called Unhappily Married. I’m like, ‘Oh, ok.’ So she shows me how the thing goes and we’re doing it. And I’m like, ‘Aahh, this is fun.’ I’m just enjoying it. So, next thing you know, I want a computer.”

Even after being caught by her husband, Ebony changed her screen name and was back in the online dating and cybersex game. The world of digital relationships is so compelling that even someone not ordinarily inclined to wander gets seduced by the intimacy of online connections.

Then there is the question of artificial intelligence. None of the interviewees in this study mentioned a robot as the third party in a digital indiscretion, but the possibility may be moving closer to reality.

The U.S. version of Humans is the story of synthetics who are not sentient but their communication with and care for their human owners make them indispensable. In season one episode four, primary user, Joe Hawkins has sex with his synthetic Anita. His daughter discovers the synth has been on “adult mode” and eventually Joe confesses to his wife who is outraged that he had sex with their children’s caretaker. Joe suggests it wasn’t infidelity, but more like having sex with a toy.

Joe’s defense raises important questions. Is sex with a synth a digital indiscretion? Would simply sharing feelings with a synth count as an emotional affair? How much connection is too much connection? How would you feel if your partner had sex with a robot and kept it from you?

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