Digital Indiscretions – Part Three: Obsessions

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.

The use of technology is not only about whether one can or will be unfaithful. Technology also plays a prominent role in how much a betrayed person wants to know. Some women do not want to know any details about their partner’s infidelity. Some women want to know everything. The discovery options aided by technology are vast—cell phones, caller ID, voicemail, email, texts, instant messages, PayPal, bank records, social media profiles, digital recordings, and even online maps.

Some discoveries among the women I interviewed were accidental, but most were the result of a focused and intentional obsession with discovering information about a partner’s affair.

Irene acknowledged, “For a number of years I lost my mind and started going through every email, every file, every underneath.” Pauline noticed that her boyfriend of two years was leaving his phone face down and liking smiley faces that women posted on his Facebook pictures. One night while he was sleeping she went through his phone because as she said, “I turn into an FBI agent when all this stuff happens.”

Several women admitted that were not proud of their actions. Janet confessed to stalking her boyfriend’s other girlfriend on social media—mostly Instagram. “I was literally stalking. I’m not even going to lie. I’m checking and I was like, ‘What are you doing?’ It’s consuming some hours of my day because every hour I’m checking. Is she saying something? Are they together? Are they around each other? I have to stop.” Ironically, Janet did not have a Twitter or an Instagram account; she would log onto friends’ accounts to gather information.

Alesia conceded to going too far while confirming her boyfriend’s infidelity when she said, “And then another time, there was this girl who left a message on his cell phone. I called that girl, which is so out of character for me. I hated that! I’m calling these girls asking what the dude is doing and stuff like that. I hated that. Because that’s the girl I always tried to avoid being. Looking through cell phone bills and bank accounts; he took me out of my element and I didn’t like that.”

Linda’s husband was a serial cheater. She perused cell phone records and financial statements, called hotels, searched his computer and iPad, and read messages. She even emailed one of his mistresses.

“So I did something that’s not very nice. I created a fake Gmail account that sounded just like it would be his Gmail account and I emailed her and I said, ‘Hey, what’s going on? This is the best way to contact me right now. How’re you doing?’ She writes back, “Oh I feel like somebody that’s lost her best friend. I’ve missed you so much and not being able to talk to you is just awful. You can’t live like this. Your wife is crazy. Just go get a disposable cell phone. Go to the pay phone if they still have them. Do anything. I have to talk to you.” And so then I started asking questions. I made up questions that I supposed he would ask, like “What do you want from us?” And she said, “I want to be walking down the beach hand in hand, growing old together but I know that’s not what you’re telling me is going to happen.” That made me feel sad. I probably hurt her.

Linda admitted, “I have a PhD in each of his affairs.” Later in the interview she mused, “I think I got addicted to the hunt, the hunt for information.” A hunt that was made possible by the same technology her husband used to be unfaithful.

How obsessive would you become about a hunt? In “The Entire History of You” episode of an excellent series (I am very biased) titled Black Mirror, the characters each have a device called a grain that allows them to replay their past memories. Here’s a huge SPOILER ALERT: the main character becomes obsessive about his wife’s relationship with a “friend” and uses their grains to eventually confirm his wife’s infidelity. Watch the video:

The episode is incredibly entertaining and admittedly it seemed far-fetched until July 22, 2015, when Google received a patent for a searchable video archive of anyone wearing a device similar to Google Glass. A device and storage system like this could make recalling our sexual greatest hits easier than ever, but it would also make it easier for partners and others to hack them as well. How would you feel about living in a world where every aspect of one’s digital indiscretions were archived and accessible online? How obsessed would you become?

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