You may know I am fascinated by places the famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma refers to as “edge zones,” those being physical spaces that by virtue of their location, history, and/or topology have found themselves at the mercy of many culture clashes over time. Think Bosnia, for example, torn for centuries between the Christian north and the Muslim south, or my dear Georgia, caught between everyone from the Greeks and Persians to the Russians and the Azeris. Even this past year when I visited Poland for the first time, I realized it was an edge zone as well; a pawn in the 18th and 19th century between the imperial powers of Prussia, Russia, and Austria as well as in the 20th between Germany and the Soviet Union. The effects of such star-crossed locations reverberate through time, through their complex histories, the development of their civic life and architecture, the politics, the music, and the food, just to name a few examples.
But just recently there has been a news event that for me seems to contain so many elements of social, political, and technological life that it deserves to be a “temporal” edge zone all by itself, and that is the hacking of the Ashley Madison website and then the release of much or all of its personal data to the world (albeit at this point the techno-savvy world).
If you haven’t been following this issue over the past few days as I have been (the pastoral landscape of my current location combined with a delightful but undemanding professional schedule leaves me, it appears, with way too much time on my hands or fingers), the facts seem to be these:
1.) There is/was a Canadian-based website, in existence since 2001, whose purpose was to assist people in the pursuit of extra-marital affairs;
2.) Some one or ones appeared to take offense at allegedly fraudulent business practice/s of said site and threatened to reveal users’ personal data if said practice/s were not addressed (this practice was the deletion of user profiles);
3.) Said practice/s were not addressed (or addressed to the satisfaction of the concerned party/ies) and so personal and financial data was stolen on or about July 15th of this year, and over the following month, most or all of this allegedly protected information on millions of users around the world was indeed released. This included names, addresses, emails, and a host of personal preferences regarding the intended purpose of the site.
Well, that was relatively straight-foward, but the more I read and thought, the greater and greater and greater the reverberations seemed to me, cascading through my mind in giddy waves. As someone who has herself used other dating sites, I can only begin to imagine the tectonic heart-stopping terror any one of those users might be experiencing at this very moment moment, waiting, as it were, for the shoes to start falling, and falling, and falling.
So what’s in play, here? Why my particular fascination? Well, let’s just look at the vectors and some of the deep ironies that result…
1.) The biological imperative, particularly but not exclusively for men, it seems (given that the vast majority of AM users were men), to seek novelty in sexual life;
2.) The deep-seated and unforgiving nature of jealousy, the “lizard brain” of not wanting to share, the promises of fidelity;
3.) The social contract of marriage, designed in large part (IMHO) by religions to be a force of social control and political networking, not necessarily the happiness of individuals;
4.) Lifespans (and marriages) now continuing for much much longer than ever possible in the future;
5.) A technological world in which things that hitherto were fantastic and impossible have now become not only possible but even commercialized and accessible *from the comfort of your home and/or office*;
6.) A trust in the power of said technology that information put into that medium *will stay safe and not be revealed,* regardless of daily evidence to the contrary;
7.) A belief, on the part of the hacker/s that a website *built entirely on a model of deception* should otherwise be guided by fair and transparent business practices; and finally,
8.) A belief, again on the part of the hacker/s, that releasing this personal information will harm the company and its CEO more than it will harm the individuals involved (and individuals will be harmed; more about that in a moment).
There are probably more, many more, but that’s all I can manage at the moment.
I don’t condone cheating. I don’t condone making money off cheating. I don’t condone unethical business practices. I don’t condone the stupidity of using your work email for such activities (15K emails alone for the military, 665 at last count from big financial institutions like Chase and Bank of America). I certainly don’t condone a (expletive deleted) person like Josh Duggar, reality TV “star” and “family values activist” barely squeaking by his molestation charges now being revealed as having been listed on this site *with two memberships.* Gack.
But. Many.many.people.will.be.terribly.terribly.hurt, most specifically spouses, families, men in homophobic countries where they could find themselves killed. Is this what the hackers intended? Was their actual intention greater than the business practices of the company, rather, did it extend to an attack of the “godless morality” of our times? I don’t know, don’t know yet, may never know. But in the meantime, like the physical edge zones I have visited and still hope to see, this temporal and technological event will continue to fascinate me.
I appreciate the way that you discuss this business in a largely non-judgmental way while pointing out the folks that will be most hurt/humiliated by this release. It also begs the question of the ethical dilemma surrounding the wiki-leaks of gov’t information that the perceived greater good trumps the consequences faced by participants who believed they were serving honorably. Perhaps it’s time we included a class in ethics (and ethical dilemmas) as mandatory in all levels – yea unto the elementary grades as well as ivy covered halls – as a requirement of graduation.
Amen to that, brother, although such a class would assume that there was some theoretical or empirical or other conceptual framework that could guide the discussion. In the above case, and in Wiki-leaks (which I was also considering while writing this), it seems to me that are a number of rights and a number of wrongs and a heck of a lot of gray. In our multi-cultural, poly-ethical, agnostic spiritual-but-religious world, the old standards are falling to the side and the best I’ve been able to come up with as a replacement is “kindness” and “do no harm.”
Especially love #7. “I can do whatever my cheatin’ little heart/body wants, but YOU have to play fair.”
EXACTLY. The thought somehow that business now should be held to the highest standards in society. “I paid money for this so you have to do what I want.” This is why I am beginning to wonder if this hack isn’t the work of an individual or small group of disgruntled former customers.