You may have already heard that 46 percent of American women and 30 percent of their male counterparts would prefer to go without sex for two weeks than be deprived of Internet access for the same length of time. This revelation has been fueling breathless headlines for the past few days, with the Wall Street Journal bemoaning the gender disparity in the study's findings ("Men have always faced challenges when it comes to romance. Here’s a sign that technology may have raised another hurdle") and the Observer indulging in the following egregious pun: "A new Intel survey reports that women would rather Tumblr than take a tumble in bed."
Personally, I have shied away from covering the study, which seems to me to be the non-story to end all non-stories. But now that even the New York Times is taking note of the findings, I feel compelled to inject a dose of reality into the conversation.
Listen: This has nothing to do with women's low libidos, lack of interest in sex or prurient fascination with the World Wide Web. It isn't even about preferring online life to in-the-flesh human contact. It is about how essential the Internet has become to the daily lives of Americans. Nothing I've read has mentioned whether the two weeks in question would include work-related Internet use, but if it did, anyone whose career requires a computer or BlackBerry would be likely to lose her job by choosing sex over e-mail. And even if the study did include a workplace exemption, think about how essential the Internet is to the personal lives of most Americans. If we e-mail a friend or family member and he doesn't respond within 24 hours, we wonder what's wrong. If we want to invite someone to an event of any kind, we use Evite or Facebook. Unless we're among the rapidly declining number of Americans who watch TV news or subscribe to print publications, the Web is where we learn what's going on in the world. And between Netflix, iTunes, eMusic and Hulu, the Internet is also many people's primary entertainment hub. Hell, I hear that people actively looking for sex (or, you know, a relationship, if that's what you're into) can even use this newfangled "series of tubes" to do that, too!
I know what you're going to say: "Twenty years ago, people managed to get by without the Internet. Isn't it kind of pathetic that they can't last two weeks without it in 2008?" Maybe so. But the fact is, the Internet isn't going away any time soon. In fact, realistically, Intel's numbers for both sexes are probably lower than they would be had subjects actually been made to stick to their decisions. No one wants to be the geek who admits they'd pick the Internet over intercourse. I certainly wouldn't relish two sexless weeks, either, but if I had to choose between that and knowing the news, earning a living and maintaing a social life, I'm pretty sure I'd go for the latter. Wouldn't you?