As long as there have been relationships, there has been infidelity. There are even times in our collective history when taking a mistress was commonplace. In the last 100 years, however, the notion of love and marriage and its role in the long-term stability of a family has become a benchmark of our society's normative value system, but it hasn't kept husbands and wives from straying.
Statistics related to cheating are hard to pin down and often vary widely, but it is safe to say a lot of married people stray at some point during their marriage and even more unmarried partners look for love and sex outside their current relationships. The theme has been repeated ad nauseam in everything from scholarly journals to country songs, and it doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon.
Enter technology. The Internet has certainly played a role in many an affair. From chat rooms and video conferences to e-mail and Skype, there is no shortage of ways to get freaky online, whether you are single or not. But, even with all the aids to infidelity available, most were not built specifically for that purpose. Just as e-mail, originally intended as a way for eggheads to communicate about scholarly topics, became a home for discussions of Star Trek, video conferencing, a great tool for tele-commuting workers to meet without leaving home become a way to watch people masturbate, without leaving home.
Now, it seems, cheating has become profitable enough for companies to start creating ways to help people get away with it. Sites -- and now apps -- like AshleyMadison.com are clear in their purpose: They want to give cheaters a gateway to infidelity-ville.
I, personally, have never been one to discourage the creation and discovery of new technology. Sure, people can come up with some twisted ways to use things that were intended to be harmless, but even plastic bags have warnings on them to prevent suffocation, and most technological tools aren't dangerous when used as intended. Some even manage to make the world a better place.
Reading about apps like TigerText, however, that allow users to send text messages through the app software and delete them from the user phone, the recipient phone and the server at a moment's notice or automatically after a certain amount of time has expired, admittedly gave me pause. The makers of TigerText (ironic name considering the much-publicized affairs of Tiger Woods) claim they were simply concerned with privacy, but it still feels a little slimy even if recalling a 4 a.m. drunk text wouldn't occasionally come in handy for many of us.
The truth is, people do dumb things when a part of their body other than their brains is in charge, like post pictures of their junk on Twitter or make videotapes of themselves having sex and not bother to erase them after, examples easily found in not only popular culture and politics, but in the lives of people around us.
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But does it justify the salacious, gleeful ambition of sites like AshleyMadison? Blatantly supporting the promiscuity of people in relationships is a pretty big leap from creating technology that just happens to be leveraged for the same purpose. And it calls into question the integrity of the Apple Store, which has been known to ban anything even remotely related to porn. How is an app that not only supports cheating but actively encourages it somehow less offensive than naked people on film?
All of this, ironically, is set against the backdrop of a recent discovery embedded in iPhone technology. The iPhone logs user movement and locations on the phone and saves them to a file on the user's computer whenever it is synced with the phone, according to software developers who found the file. This could be used as a roadmap to follow as much as a year's worth of movements of the phone's owner.
It's telling that this file was immediately nicknamed the "infidelity app," suggesting it would be a way for jilted lovers to track the whereabouts of a cheating spouse after the fact.
Ultimately, whether it helps you to cheat or manages to bust you, there is no doubt technology will continue to be employed, sometimes in liberal doses, in an unethical manner. It doesn't necessarily mean we should abandon it, but setting it aside now and again to focus ourselves back on the physical world in front of us certainly can't hurt and it will probably help keep us out of trouble.