Last November, David Brooks wrote that technology was corrupting modern courtship. He argued that the ability to text and message "multiple possible partners" was driving casual "hook-ups" and rampant promiscuity. This was because technology allowed young people to circumvent larger social institutions like neighborhoods, families and churches. A nighttime "conquest" could be arranged through a simple text or IM.
Once upon a time -- in what we might think of as the "Happy Days" era -- courtship was governed by a set of guardrails. Potential partners generally met within the context of larger social institutions: neighborhoods, schools, workplaces and families. There were certain accepted social scripts. The purpose of these scripts -- dating, going steady, delaying sex -- was to guide young people on the path from short-term desire to long-term commitment.
Today there are fewer norms that guide in that way. Today's technology seems to threaten the sort of recurring and stable reciprocity that is the building block of trust.
In case you don't recall, the column was widely panned. Matthew Yglesias called it the "crank old man thesis" and The Washington Post's Ezra Klein said Brooks failed to understand texting or Facebook "because he has never seen his life change within them."
Now, four months later, a new report seems to vindicate Brooks's thesis, at least in part. Health experts in Britain are now linking the rise of Facebook with an uptick in "casual sex" among "multiple partners." It's become a public health concern because rates of syphilis increased fourfold in areas where Facebook is most popular. Professor Peter Kelly, director of public health in Teesside (one of the studied areas), says social networking is to blame:
Syphilis is a devastating disease. Anyone who has unprotected sex with casual partners is at high risk. There has been a fourfold increase in the number of syphilis cases detected with more young women being affected. I don't get the names of people affected, just figures, and I saw that several of the people had met sexual partners through these sites. Social networking sites are making it easier for people to meet up for casual sex.