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Opening Arguments

Everybody needs a back-up

Let's check in on the impact of technological change on the culture, shall we? The last time we checked, getting matched on the Internet was passe, but the debate about whether watching online porn was real cheating still raged on. Things have moved along nicely since those innocent days:

As if the negotiation of Facebook officiality and the drawn-out dance of flirty texting weren’t obstacles enough, the Internet has visited a new affliction on modern love: It’s called “digital infidelity,” and it’s probably living on your phone.

A new study by researchers at the University of Indiana found that Facebook users in relationships frequently use the site to keep in touch with “back-burners” — exes or platonic friends they know they could connect with romantically, should their current relationships go south. Men have back-burners at roughly twice the rate of women, the study found. But among both genders, the practice is widespread: On average, respondents in relationships said they had romantic or sexual conversations with two people (!) besides their current partner.

That comes on top of a a recent release by the research agency OnePoll, which suggested as many as half of all women keep in touch with a “back-up husband” they could contact if their current husband doesn’t work out. (“With sites like Facebook and Twitter, it’s easier than ever to stay in touch with an old flame,” a OnePoll rep told the Daily Mail.)

Meanwhile, sex researchers have recently begun to treat “remote infidelity” — emotional cheating, via social media or smartphone — as a valid topic of research. And it’s on the rise, the noted relationship scholar and anthropology professor Helen Fisher told Salon.

"Back-up husband" is a new term for me, but of course the phenomenon is as old as the human race. (Men, as you probably know have a back-up something else; no, not "wife"). As the article finally gets around to noting, on one level "digital cheating" or "remote infidelity" is "just a very old concept in new, trendy clothes. People in relationships have always had back-burners, the Indiana researchers point out — and emotional infidelity, a sort of destructive, unconsummated affair, went down in bars and over cubicle walls long before we had Gchat records of it. To some extent, the Internet has only made these things more visible, better-documented: There are finally texts and emails to back up our suspicions."