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The Net: Naughty By Nature?

A while back, I wrote an arti­cle, Meet­ing Online Con­tacts Offline. Some­one left a com­ment on the arti­cle say­ing that she want­ed to talk to some­one about “inter­net affairs” and ask­ing if I could help. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, she did­n’t email me or leave her email address, and while I respond­ed to her com­ment, she did­n’t con­tact me again. I’m still won­der­ing what kind of help she need­ed.

Since then, I’ve read sev­er­al Themestream arti­cles about the ter­ri­ble effect the inter­net has had on peo­ple’s mar­riages. One arti­cle talked about how a cou­ple fought with each oth­er using instant mes­sages and found oth­er loves through the inter­net. In gen­er­al, I haven’t seen many pos­i­tive arti­cles about the inter­net and rela­tion­ships, and I final­ly decid­ed that some­body need­ed to write one just for bal­ance. Please note that I am not say­ing that those arti­cles were bad or not fac­tu­al, just that I’m not­ing a ten­den­cy towards look­ing at the dark side of the issue.

As any­body who has read my arti­cles on inter­net safe­ty or my web site would know, I’m very cau­tious about who I get to know and how close they get to my fam­i­ly. Due to past expe­ri­ences, I am extreme­ly aware of infor­ma­tion­al secu­ri­ty, and there are peo­ple who have known me for years online who don’t have my street address—and are unlike­ly to get it any time soon unless they vis­it Atlanta and I decide to invite them over.

I have, how­ev­er, met many won­der­ful peo­ple in the years I’ve spent online. I’ve had good and bad experiences—but most of them, hon­est­ly, have been good. I’m cau­tious, but I’m not closed to possibilities—and due to that, there are peo­ple in my life who I would nev­er have met oth­er­wise. There’s a man who is my par­ents’ age who is like a broth­er to me. There’s a fam­i­ly whose daugh­ter stays with us when her par­ents are work­ing and who game with us and cel­e­brate hol­i­days with us. And there’s my life part­ner, who I met at church but got to know online.

The inter­net does not lead to any kind of infi­deli­ty or oth­er bad behav­ior any more than tele­phones, cars or rock music do. There’s absolute­ly no rea­son to claim that your wife left you because of some­body she met on the internet—if she was going to be unfaith­ful, she could have found ways to do so with or with­out the net. Your hus­band did not get into pornog­ra­phy because of the internet—he could have found it oth­er­wise if he want­ed to do so (yes, it’s easy to find it online, but there have always been oth­er ways, too). Your teenaged daugh­ter did not sud­den­ly become rebel­lious and get involved with some weird new reli­gion because of the internet—the rebel­lion was already there, and she would have found an out­let for it with or with­out that AOL account. If your son was going to be com­mit­ting some kind of van­dal­ism, the fact that he found the script kid­dies’ web sites and the virus cre­ation toolk­it online may have steered him towards a par­tic­u­lar kind of van­dal­ism, but it did­n’t make him do it. Whether a per­son acts eth­i­cal­ly or uneth­i­cal­ly depends on that per­son­’s char­ac­ter, not whether or not he or she is online.

A cou­ple whose rela­tion­ship is in trou­ble isn’t going to have a stronger rela­tion­ship because they get rid of the PC and the cable modem. They won’t mag­i­cal­ly find them­selves dis­in­ter­est­ed in out­side affairs. They won’t be any more like­ly to put the work that needs to be done to (if pos­si­ble) heal their mar­riage just because they’re back to watch­ing TV instead of chat­ting online. The same tools they use to talk to their lovers could be used to increase com­mu­ni­ca­tion with each other—if they want­ed to use them that way.

I find infi­deli­ty of any kind utter­ly dis­gust­ing. I am not, in fact, very for­giv­ing of peo­ple who break their com­mit­ments to their part­ners or to their chil­dren. I don’t con­done “inter­net affairs” or any oth­er kind of affairs, but I can’t real­ly see why there’s a need to think about “inter­net affairs”—cheating is cheat­ing, peri­od.

Orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished March 12, 2001