In Box

Digital Divorce

What’s love got to do with technology? Everything. The much-touted matchmaking Web site www.match.com has 8 million members in more than 230 countries and estimates it is responsible for "arranging hundreds of thousands of relationships."  But the relationship between technology and matters of the heart isn’t all roses and chocolate. Last July, an Islamic court ...

What’s love got to do with technology? Everything. The much-touted matchmaking Web site www.match.com has 8 million members in more than 230 countries and estimates it is responsible for "arranging hundreds of thousands of relationships." 

But the relationship between technology and matters of the heart isn’t all roses and chocolate. Last July, an Islamic court in Malaysia approved a divorce between Shamsudin Latif and Azida Fazlina Abdul Latif that had been delivered via mobile telephone using the wireless Internet technology known as short messaging service (SMS), or text messaging. After the couple quarreled and Fazlina fled to her parents’ home, Latif sent a text message saying, "If you do not leave your parents’ house, you will be divorced." The Malaysian court’s precedent for allowing the divorce was a 2001 case in Dubai where jurists upheld a text-message divorce. At the time, the Gulf News had reported that SMS messages were cited as reasons for divorce in at least 15 other cases.

"This all speaks to a general human tendency to use technologies to deal with the very things that make us human," says Randolph Kluver, a professor at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Communication and Information in Singapore. "We used to say that we would use robots to do the mundane work that bored humans … but now we are using technology to do the difficult things." Of course, under Islamic law, executing a divorce can be quite simple. Men who want to separate from their wives declare "I divorce you" three times. With SMS, the trouble is you never can tell who typed the message or whether it was really intended.

That’s one reason many women’s rights advocates such as the Malaysia-based groups Sisters in Islam (www.sistersinislam.org.my) and Women’s Aid Organization (www.wao.org.my) condemn courts’ willingness to uphold divorce via SMS, saying it encourages the breakup of marriages and is discourteous. At least two governments seem to agree. Singapore does not recognize divorce via text message and Malaysia’s civil government is in the process of banning it. Last July, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said, "We hope of course that instead of sending messages, he [the husband] would look at the picture of his beautiful wife, call and talk to her over the phone." The phone — more proof that love has got everything to do with technology.

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