Here’s an interesting essay arguing that the rise of divorce rates among the elderly is due to Facebook and other social media. The author, Sheri Kirschenbaum, points to data from divorce lawyers suggesting that a growing number of divorces are due to the increased use of “social media.” This is particularly the case among members of the Baby Boom generation who are now engaging in more unplanned affairs with long-lost loves, found through such media as Facebook. Because of a tendency to “romanticize the past,” the desire to revisit one’s youth, and even heightened levels of chemical stimulation that a re-connection with past lovers stimulates, researchers conclude that the of divorces among the elderly are on the increase.
The article further posits that the cause of this increase would have been all but unmanageable without Facebook, that “social media” technology is the main, perhaps exclusive cause of this growing phenomenon. “One force that is helping to fracture those marriages [is that] the people who are now approaching retirement age were unprepared for an altered technological landscape that allows them to reconnect with long-lost love.”
While certainly plausible as a partial explanation, this claim seems overdetermined. If technology makes certain kinds of connections easier, the truth is that divorce was already well-entrenched in our society well before the advent of Facebook. Facebook doubtless makes it easier to wander and engage in the temptations of illicit assignations, but the tendency to divorce one’s spouse was already well-established as a social norm.
Still, it is striking that the kinds of connections that this technology makes easier seems to be assisting in the culmination the logic of John Locke’s contractarian view of the marriage. No less than the State or any grouping of people, according to Locke, marriage is a contract formed between monadic individuals. While the issue of children is a complicating factor – an instance in which one many not simply exit the limited partnership – there is no inherent reason why a couple, having raised their children and seen them enter the age of “nonage,” may not elect to dissolve the bond and pursue other interests.
When the primary understanding of marriage is the dissolution of the self in the formation of something altogether different – a sacramental coming together of two in one flesh – then such a contractual understanding is altogether incomprehensible. Regardless of the available technology, an understanding of family as indivisible would predominate, rendering such technology irrelevant to the current usage.
The transformation of this sacramental understanding of marriage to one consisting of contracting individuals has been aided by, and thereby further reinforced, the atomization of the family. First the family was nucleated, with children and parents, siblings and cousins no longer living in proximity. Correspondingly, because there is a declining experience of the extension of family beyond the nuclear household, today’s elderly largely understand their role and duty as child-rearers to be expired. The sunset years are the time of state-supported leisure (funded on the backs of their grandchildren and unborn future generations), lived in the artificial sun-drenched villages of the dying where one surfs the web for long-lost loves and dreams of what might have been – rather than living daily in the rhythm of child-rearing, teaching, storytelling and preservation of memory among the children of one’s children.
The fault, at base, is not attributable to Facebook. Our crisis is a theological, not technological, and a reckoning surely awaits.