The Corner

Culture

Does Anthony Weiner Not Understand the Internet?

Anthony Weiner’s at it again. Here’s USA Today:

Anthony Weiner, the Congressman who resigned from office after pursuing women on Twitter and sending lewd photographs of himself, is in the spotlight again for all the wrong reasons.

While his wife, Huma Abedin, is off campaigning for former secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the New York Post reported Weiner has been sexting another woman — at one point posting a raunchy selfie with his 4-year-old son in the background.

The Post published the selfie, which shows Weiner with a bulge wearing only white boxer briefs. His son is lying next to him in a green blanket. The tabloid also shared screenshots of the pair’s exchanges, which began in late January 2015 after Weiner direct messaged her on Twitter. Their conversations continued through earlier this month.

Here’s my question: How did Weiner think that he was going to get away with this? Forget the moral component for a moment and focus solely on a practical truth: In 2016, you cannot behave like this and keep it a secret. Why doesn’t Weiner get that?

In a sense, we’ve come full circle with technology. Before the invention of the motorcar, the telephone, and the ubiquitous motel, would-be philanderers had their work cut out. If you lived in a small town, stepping out on your wife was tough. Where would you go? How would you get there? And how could you be sure that nobody you knew would see you? In 1900, the average American lived in a tiny, close-knit community; if one person got wind of your behavior, every one would. One false move and you’re busted.

And then, suddenly, it changed. By the 1950s, everybody had a car, which they could use to get to the next town — or farther. Motels popped everywhere, as did their discreet proprietors. And the analog telephone provided a means by which those who were up to no good could communicate instantly, and without leaving a substantial record. So fundamentally did this transform American life that traditionalists complained openly about the deleterious effect that modernity was having on conventional mores. Here’s Dinesh D’Souza back in 2002:

Consider the one thing that has done more to undermine morality in America than the combined influence of Darwin, Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche. I speak, of course, of the automobile. Before the era of the automobile most Americans lived in farms or in small towns. Their virtue and chastity were sustained by the moral supervision of the local community. A man looks out of his window. “Isn’t that Art Bucker’s son? What’s he up to? Hey. Stop that! Get out of there!” What destroyed this comprehensive moral eco system was the car. By providing universal access to the city, the car helped to bring about the end of a whole way of life in America. The point of this example is not to oppose cars, or to advocate that they be outlawed, but to show that the apparatus of modern technology makes inevitable some degree of moral change.

14 years later, is this still true? I think not, no. Now, there are cameras everywhere. Now, most people carry cell phones and drive cars that track their movement by satellite. Now, most communication is conducted via intermediate servers, and spread across multiple devices. In 1960, the average American could make a sordid phone call without there being any chance that it would be taped. Today, with a $3 app, anybody can record any conversation and send it anywhere in the world in a few seconds. Social media, which Weiner used to start his exchange with his latest objet du désir, lasts more or less forever.

Put plainly, it is now nigh on impossible for anybody to get away with infidelity, especially if one is a public figure. Does Weiner not know this? Is he unaware that, quite literally at any moment, his interlocutors could gather all of their exchanges and send them to the press? Or does he not care? Either way, his behavior was extremely stupid — and extremely sad, too. Again?

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