PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Some researchers have suggested that people who bring laptops into the marital bed may be putting strains on their relationship. Now what would give them that idea
Clearly, a husband or wife who is tapping out e-mail messages in the sack is not giving much attention to the person at his or her side, and that could lead to an alienation of affections. As a crime against romance, e-mailing in bed is hardly adultery. But it does take on an air of neglect.
This new social phenomenon comes to us courtesy of those clever little wireless laptops. They make e-mailing as easy to do in the boudoir as in the office.
That some social scientists see risks in turning the bed into a workplace is no surprise. That some of them don’t is a surprise.
Ken Anderson, an anthropologist at Intel Research, in Beaverton, Ore., actually sees a positive side to bed-based computing. He tells of a wife who couldn’t sleep without her husband next to her. The husband wanted to be at his keyboard, so everyone’s needs were served when he brought the computer into the bed.
“The whole idea of being ‘co-present’ is very important these days,” Anderson told The New York Times. (Remember, he works for Intel.)
David Schnarch, director of the Marriage and Family Health Center in Evergreen, Colo., thinks that some partners feel more comfortable next to their bedmate if they have a computer to work on. That way, they don’t have to make eye contact. Well, at least they’re co-present.
Others believe that partners who bring his-and-hers laptops into bed can experience a pleasant sense of togetherness. It’s not so different from a couple watching television in bed. (OK, but at least they shared the same TV screen.)
Let me play Carrie Bradshaw from “Sex and the City” for a minute and tap out this question: “When does computer-mediated communication become infidelity”
Most of the researchers here assume that the laptop brought to bed is being used for work. That is a fair assumption because most computer addicts do nothing but work. But suppose a husband, say, is devilishly typing sweet yearnings — and inserting his most choice emoticons — to some other woman, while his wife lies inertly in bed. Does such activity rise to the level of full-scale disloyalty or simply add a harmless dash of spice to an ordinary weekday night
This total bonding with e-mail has given that form of communication an almost face-to-face quality. People are using e-mail to deliver information that was once presented only in person and formally.
RadioShack Corp. made history this summer when it fired about 400 workers by e-mail. “The workforce reduction notification is currently in progress,” the message sent around the Fort Worth headquarters read. “Unfortunately, your position is one that has been eliminated.” Oh.
That’s nothing, though, next to e-mailed divorce notices. The first was believed to have taken place six years ago in Dubai. An American citizen of Arab origin apparently sent his Saudi wife an e-mail that he had divorced her.
As BBC explained: “Under Islamic law, a man is allowed up to four wives and can divorce one simply by telling her, ‘I divorce you,’ if certain conditions are met.” The husband in this case sent his wife the “I divorce you” pronouncement in an e-mail message.
Suppose he wants to divorce more than one wife. Does he “copy and paste”
So beware. One night you might be going through e-mail next to your snoring mate. Tucked in among the spam for pharmaceuticals and the forwarded jokes could be a shocker: “I divorce you, and please don’t wake me up.”
• Froma Harrop, a 2001 National Society of Newspaper Columnists award winner, is a member of the Providence (R.I.) Journal editorial board and a Creators Syndicate columnist.