Cheating? iPhone Has an App for That

If you want to keep secrets from a relationship partner, you’re in luck: There’s a new iPhone and iPod Touch app for that. It’s called Tiger Text. The app automatically deletes sent and received text messages not only from phones but also from the server that typically stores messages. Its fortuitous name is purportedly not an ode to Tiger Woods, but an homage to the tiger, which is notoriously hard to track in the wild. I don’t know how monogamous tigers are, but I’m pretty sure Tiger Woods would have appreciated a program that helped him keep his secrets.

Pairing Tiger Text with the 2004 mobile-phone app Sound Cover would make covert activity even more possible. Sound Cover is a program that syncs with your phone to play a variety of desired background noises to mislead a caller. For example, when partner A calls and asks partner B about tardiness, partner B plays traffic background noises on command and apologizes for being late when partner B is really on a rendezvous.

So what do either of these apps have to do with sexism, gender and power? To be fair, they both could be used to plan surprise parties and romantic getaways for that special person. The apps aren’t inherently sexist. The link to sexism is that the apps assist in keeping secrets. Keeping secrets leads to lying, and lying is used as a form of power and control.

In All About Love bell hooks writes that “males learn to lie as a way of obtaining power, and females not only do the same but they also lie to pretend powerlessness.” hooks is describing a woman who lies about who she is or what she wants in order to get (and then keep) a man. These types of lies reflect the classic oppression of straight relationships in a sexist society. hooks is also describing hetero relationships where a man lies to a woman as a means of destabilizing and subordinating her.

This might not be popular, but I’m going to say it anyway: The privilege granted to men in our society gives them permission to maintain control by any means necessary. That now includes phone apps that help them lie.  hooks notes that men lie because they believe women are gullible and because they know they can get away with it. The pressure of being a “real man” in our society also encourages men to conceal their feelings. In other words, our culture supports it when men lie to women and when they lie to themselves. These new apps are part of that cultural practice that perpetuates this gendered power imbalance.

Technology can only be as liberating as the desires of those who use it. A lie here, a damned lie there, and voilà! For a small monthly fee, an iPhone application has helped destroy the trust in a relationship. Tiger Text and Sound Cover provide two more opportunities to deploy the power imbalance in gendered relationships. Technology layered on top of these preexisting conditions that support women and men lying to each other and to themselves is never politically innocent.

About

Ebony A. Utley, Ph.D. is an expert in popular culture, race, and love relationships. Dr. Utley’s research explores the tension between power and pleasure in popular culture, examines how Americans talk about race and racism, asks probing questions about marriage and infidelity, and explores hip hop’s relationship to love and religion. She is the author of Rap and Religion: Understanding the Gangsta’s God. In addition to national radio, print, and online appearances, Dr. Utley lectures at universities across the country and is an assistant professor of communication studies at California State University Long Beach. She resides on the web at theutleyexperience.com.