Take heart. The new sharing economy is not going to put us all out of business.
By now you have heard about Ashley Madison, a website promoting extra-marital and other illicit affairs among its members thatwas compromised by a hacker or group of hackers who exposed the confidential information of its approximately thirty million members. The exposed information included email addresses, credit card numbers, and sometimes naughty sexual fantasies. Ashley Madison’sCEO, Noel Biderman, has been forced out and a planned public offering has been axed.
Within days of the 9.7 gigabyte data dump hitting the web, multiple search tools were made available to aid both shameless rubber necks and voyeuristic in discovering which of their friends, families, and coworkers had been swindled out of their$70 fee, and fed delusions of being Mad Men’s Roger Sterling to a bargain version of Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks).
Although it can be amusing when hypocrisy is exposed (thank you Josh Duggar!), I am generally concerned about the vicious moral judgment and public shaming of individuals with respect to private sexual conduct. I take exception to the suggestion that those who were “outed” got what they deserved for signing up for Ashley Madison’s service.
Ashley Madison is in a heap of trouble for a number of good reasons. It failed tosafeguard its members confidential information, and apparently failed to make good on a ‘Full Delete’ service it offeredwhich promised to completely eliminate user profiles and all associated data for a fee. But the part of the story that truly disturbed me, and which inspired me to write on this topic, were the claims by the vetted male members that they had not actually had an affair. “Skepticism is the chastity of intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon, ” wrote George Santayana. I was originally skeptical of such claims. I’d been as likely to believe Josh Duggar’s (reality tv personality from 19 Kids and Counting & family values activist) claim that he was only on Ashley Madison to find cheater so he could save their souls. But then I looked at the members, which really tell the story.
According to extensive research done by Annalee Newitz with the design and technology blog Gizmodo, of the thirty million members, only about twelve thousand membershipsbelonged to real women who were active users on the site. That comes out to one female member for every 2,500 male members. With odds like that, Ashley Madison basically duped these unsuspecting men out of their $70.00. In Josh Duggar’s case, it was $986.76 to maintain two accounts for two years, but who’s counting.
So how did Ashley Madison pull off a heist that would impress even Henry Hill? Aside from preying on men’s most obvious weakness, how did it sell its male members on this statistically improbable proposition?
The new sharing economy, the staff of Uber and Airbnb, has been well covered in the business press over the last few years. The sharing economy, or the gig economy as Hillary Clinton refers to it, allows people to convert personal, non productive assets, into productive capital, assets. This business model works well where what is offered is a certain type of the service as a kind of valued but vital commodity, such as a ride to the airport or lodging. It does not work when one needs child care or brain surgery. Similarly, it is a business model that fails with respect tosensuality instruction.
Ashley Madison’s attempt to democratize the refined pleasure of unattached, discreet, sexual exploration appears to have been an unmitigated disaster. Ashley Madison sought to be the ‘Airbnb of illicit affairs”, but it turned out to be the guest who hosts a gender-bending bacchanal in your condo before taking a shit on your bed and tossing your gimp suit onto the neighbor’s lawn. Ashley Madison misled its members, preyed upon their weaknesses, betrayed their confidences, exposed their identities, and took their cash knowing it could not deliver value.
Using the sharing economy to choose a sensuality coach, someone who helps others realize their true and best sexual selves, reflects a failure to distinguish between noise and music, foolery and passion, labor and creative work, or commodity and art. Sensuality coaching creates something where once there was nothing. When done well, is the highest form of art, at the intersection of reality and fantasy. It is the aesthetics of design, fashion, and the human form. It is the taste of wine, sweat, and each other. It is not a ride to the airport.