Whenever new media are invented, there are those who foresee the end of civilization and morality as we knew it. Television would be the end of reading; videogames would corrupt our youth; the Internet is just a portal to pornography and predators.
As the researcher of rekindled romances - couples who loved each other years ago, parted, then reunited years later - I have been asked repeatedly about Facebook; it appears that marriages are breaking apart because lost loves find each other on social networking sites, cheat on their spouses, and suddenly take off with their rediscovered high school sweethearts. If only we didn't have Facebook, we would have safe marriages!
Is that true? Can an inanimate medium cause someone to betray their husband or wife? Does Facebook guide your fingers to click until you find your ex-boyfriend or ex- girlfriend, without your knowledge or permission? What blame does technology bear for bringing people back together who shouldn't be back together?
I have been working with reunited couples for 16 years. Yes, the population seems to have changed. According to my research participants in several phases of my study, there are more extramarital affairs in this population now than in the 1990's, before the Web, search engines, classmates sites, and now social networking were invented. In the 1990's, people who looked up lost loves did so very purposefully.
People were easy to find - it is a myth that only the Internet has brought long lost loves back together - but to contact that old flame, it was necessary to make human contact: perhaps asking a friend or relative of the lost love for his/her phone number and then calling the lost love at home. It was a rare married man who had the audacity to go to an elder parent to ask for the daughter's phone number, and then call his lost love at home, not knowing if an irritated spouse would answer the phone. And the act of making that inquiry or phone call was clearly a romantic overture, and the searcher knew it. No rationalizations there.
So what has changed with the Internet is how casual, even accidental, it can be nowadays to see a photo of lost love, or even a name, and have all the memories come flooding back. The old flame is right there, ready for contact, and what could be the harm? People who are happily married, especially, do not realize the risk they are taking, the Pandora's box they are opening, just to say hello. But this began long before Facebook. A lost love could be found through Google, web sites like Classmates.com, or people finder sites like Zabasearch.com. Facebook is simply the newest medium to blame.
Facebook is not the cause of marriages breaking apart. Facebook does not book hotel rooms. What I have noticed, however, is that extramarital affairs with lost loves are begun by younger people. The older websites like Classmates.com had, well, older members. Facebook began with a younger membership; they are no more apt to cheat than people who find lost loves on other websites, but because they are younger on Facebook, when marriages break apart from Facebook lost love reunions, young families are often involved instead of empty nesters.
No doubt about it, though: cheating is enabled with "new and improved" technology in general. No need to write letters anymore. Remember how long they used to take to arrive? It was hard to stay obsessive during those long intervals. And you had to make sure to beat your spouse to the mailbox. A computer takes care of all that: fast replies and secret email accounts so the spouse never sees the mail. Much cheaper than a secret post office box, too, and the affair partners can communicate at any hour, right from home.
Smart phones can be used for dumb purposes; a married person who wants to contact a lost love can send email or text messages on the go. Or send digital photos from the last rendezvous... then delete them. The evidence is gone.
Cheap cell phones can be purchased that spouses never know about. Only the affair partner has the number. Instant Messaging! Chat rooms! Enough said.
Internet shopping allows for sending gifts from your computer right to the affair partner's business address. Use a secret credit card or Paypal account and a spouse will never know.
Want to end the affair? Send an email to say it's over, then delete your email account and throw away the cheap secret phone. Done!
This is the cavalier way I hear technology discussed by people in lost love affairs. They are thrilled that secrecy is so easy. But you know what? Most people get caught. Men and women who had been in a kind of teenage denial suddenly lose their marriages and then wonder what hit them. If the marriage partner is very forgiving, the marriage may stay together. But so much harm has been done.
Technology cannot cause affairs. But the razzle dazzle of new technology can obscure the old fashioned devastation that occurs to the lost loves, to their spouses, to their children, to their extended families and friends, to their business contacts, and to their community support systems. Lost love reunions between single, divorced, or widowed men and women can be very happy; but if people are not truly free to reunite, everybody loses. Seeing the wake of these affairs, over and over, makes this objective researcher sad.