The only Zip codes in America that didn’t have accounts for the “have-an-affair” website are rural. Unfortunately, that probably tells us more about our technology than our morals.
Because we lack dependable national data on broadband access, we may never know the answer to a pressing question:
Are residents of Polvadera, New Mexico, less likely to try to cheat on their spouses than residents of Nikolai and Perryville, Alaska – or anywhere else, for that matter?
All week long, data hounds have been poring over the AshleyMadison.com user data leak to find public figures and high-profile hypocrites. But this is Big Data; there are always larger questions to explore. Geographic distribution, for example.
Out of all the Zip codes in the United States, only three lack any accounts on Ashley Madison, according to Gabrielle Bluestone of Gawker, a site noted for its gossip reporting, if not for data analysis.
All three of these Zips are decidedly rural.
The question is why?
Let’s look at what the data have to say, but first two caveats:
Assuming Gawker is correct, and assuming cheaters don’t lie (admittedly, large assumptions), there’s still not much to say about rural values and the Ashley Madison user data.
There are those who will use this data to support claims of rural moral exceptionalism. These are the folks who say rural people are nicer, kinder, more wholesome, more honest – that sort of stuff.
But as tempting as it might be to argue that rural values are the reason, other data sets containing information on rural morality contradict that conclusion. Count the country-music Top 40 songs about infidelity, for example. There are an awful lot of cheating hearts, boots under the wrong bed, and folks taking their love to town.
So maybe it’s connectivity – the virtual kind, I mean – that limits the search for low-rent rendezvous in these rural places.
Data from the National Broadband Map supports this. The two Alaska locales that had no AshleyMadison.com users also have very little Internet access.
Nikolai, Alaska, one of the squeaky-clean Zip codes, gets only satellite Internet service. By the time you download the weather, sports scores, cat videos, and the school lunch menu, folks start worrying about hitting their data caps. That’s a real mood spoiler, even for those who are woman enough to take someone else's man.
Perryville, Alaska, on the Alaska Peninsula, is only marginally better. Besides satellite, there’s only one source listed: a wimpy wireless signal delivering less than 1 megabit per second. Daddy ain't got all day.
The story is only slightly different in Polvadera, New Mexico, the final Zip to test negative for Ashley Madison disease. There, the National Broadband Map lists five providers. Two of those claim to supply 10 to 25 megabits per second. That’s certainly enough bandwidth to upload a photo, troll some profiles, and throw out a virtual wink or two. (I’m guessing that’s how the site works, of course.)
But a resident of that part of New Mexico told Gawker that online access is nonexistent for Polvadera. Away from I-25, it’s hard to pick up even a cell signal, this source says. That means tough terrain for even those who arrange their cheating the old fashioned way — texting.
So we’re left with few answers, except the usual commentary on rural connectivity:
Our romances may not be third-rate, but our Internet access sure is.
Tim Marema is editor of the Daily Yonder.