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Love in the Time of Caller ID

When we’re always in touch but never in reach, can true love blossom?

Hold on, I Gotta Answer This

Communications technology now makes it possible to reach someone on a beach in Costa Rica, the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the International Space Station, and in bed.

Michael Chancellor, MD, director of the Center for Urologic Research Excellence in Pittsburgh, studies male and female sexual dysfunction and says he has identified a new disorder afflicting hard-charging corporate types when they're behind closed doors.

"I was in a meeting with my colleagues once and everybody's BlackBerries kept going on off, and I thought, 'Blackberries are ubiquitous and they affect business -- I'll bet they affect sex, too," he tells WebMD.

To test this hypothesis, he and colleagues conducted a small online survey of Ivy League MBAs and found that four in 10 reported that they stopped having sex to respond to a message on their BlackBerries or other digital devices, and 45% admitted skipping sex for a business meeting, golf game, or night at the theatre.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term coitus interruptus.

To foster healthier relationships, Chancellor proposes that Valentine's Day also be designated as "Turn Off Your BlackBerry Day".

Second Life, Second Wife

Technology can also make strangers bedfellows. According to Mother Jones magazine, about one-third of women who play the multiplayer online role-playing game Second Life marry off their avatars, as do about 10% of men who play. The virtual marriages usually last only a few weeks, however.

A significant proportion of online players also report having "real" dates with someone they first met online.

And then of course, there is online infidelity, whether it's a husband having a virtual affair with a woman he's never met, or, in the case of Ric and Sue Hoogestraat of metropolitan Phoenix, a husband whose avatar has another (online) wife, complete with two digital dogs, motorcycles, and a virtual mortgage. Sue told the Wall Street Journal in August 2007 that it was upsetting when she tried to communicate with Ric, then her husband of seven months, and found him "having sex with a cartoon."

That's All She Wrote

The same electronic toys that help us keep in touch, however, can also help us sever the ties that bind, a phenomenon that has many social psychologists concerned.

In a 2005 study of 40 seventh graders published in the web-based Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, researchers from the Indiana University in Bloomington found that nearly one-fourth who reported using instant messaging said they had used it to break up with someone. And in a 2006 survey by cell phone maker Samsung Technologies, reported in The Washington Post, 11% of respondents said it was OK to break up with someone via text message, just as Britney Spears is widely reported to have done with Kevin Federline.

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