Jeff Hancock: The future of lying
I found this video to be very interesting, and informative. Mr. Hancock approached lying from a social scientist perspective, and attempted to classify different lies, and why we tell different lies. He starts by explaining how everyone lies, and then goes into how often they lie. How often do you lie? Can you even consider white lies a lie at all? Obviously if you’re Pinocchio, they add up in end. Most of the lies we tell are never uncovered. According to Mr. Hancock, “a lot of research shows that we all lie once or twice a day.” Once or twice a day adds up to over 700 lies a year if we only tell two lies per day. Lying is a universal thing, like the hit TV show House, “Everybody lies.” While you may be quick to think you don’t lie, they don’t have to be big, they can be minuscule things. Hancock expands, “This fits with a lot of the research, which suggests that lying is very pervasive. It’s the pervasiveness, combined with the centrality to what it means to be a human, the fact that we can tell the truth or make something up, that has fascinated people throughout history.”
So what reasons do we have for lying? Mr. Hancock tells us “We like to protect ourselves or for our own gain or for somebody else’s gain. So there are some pathological liars, but they make up a tiny portion of the population. We lie for a reason. Just because people can’t see us doesn’t mean we’re going to necessarily lie.” Each person must weigh whether or not being found out is worth the lie they are telling, which is an interesting way of weighing things. Lying does have its costs, but people are willing to lie because “they’re aimed at protecting the relationships. These aren’t just people being jerks. These are people that are saying, look, I don’t want to talk to you now, or I didn’t want to talk to you then, but I still care about you. Our relationship is important.” As the famous saying goes, “the road to perdition is paved with good intentions.” Lies are told for reasons, but technology is changing how, and when we lie. Of email, the phone, and in person, “that surprises people the most is that email is the most honest of those three media. And it really throws people for a loop because we think, well, there’s no nonverbal cues, so why don’t you lie more? The phone, in contrast, the most lies. Again and again and again we see the phone is the device that people lie on.” It’s interesting that people are naturally selective on what platforms they lie on, and it tends to be one, which next to being in person, is usually erased. Phone calls are rarely ever recorded unless you’re Nixon. The phone offers the advantage of not having nonverbal cues also. The Internet doesn’t have nonverbal cues, but it remains a record, not something that is processed and then forgotten.
Technology is now shaping how we lie. No surprise that people frequently lie on their online dating profiles; it’s been both a reality, and a cliché since it first appeared. In general though, people won’t craft expansive lies, rather they will tell small lies so that when they meet people, they aren’t immediately unmasked. Hancock choose a great statistic to look at for people lying — men’s height. He found that they lied, but usually by less than an inch. Why? because — “people lied frequently, but they lied subtly, not too much. They were constrained.” Reality is what constrains us in our lies. What’s interesting is that we’re starting to see that humans aren’t the only ones who tell lies. Koko, a gorilla, who was taught sign language, once lied to her trainer about ripping a sink off of a wall. She signed that her pet kitten did it. So where does lying come from? Does it come from language? If so, then there is no way that we can find it’s beginning because then the problem cannot also be the solution.
One of the more interesting parts of his talk is about the digital record we all leave behind. One of the better quotes from The Social Network was, “It didn’t stop you from writing it. As if every thought that tumbles through your head was so clever it would be a crime for it not to be shared. The Internet’s not written in pencil, Mark, it’s written in ink.” The Internet differs from writing because there are numerous backups and copies of the things you post, so it’s not as simple as tearing up the lone evidence, which shows your falsities. As he stated, “Now, when you are about to say or do something, we can think, do I want this to be part of my legacy, part of my personal record? Because in the digital age we live in now, in the networked age, we are all leaving a record.” Perhaps what separates us from the pat of humanity is the ready access to technology where we can store our interactions with others — whether it is through text, email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, video, etc. Different companies then store the interactions between us, and between other users. Our ‘history’. The Internet is making it both easier to lie, and harder to lie at the same time. With a few craftily placed websites, user accounts, etc. Internet trolls can persuade public perception on certain events or certain topics. So this database, and the trust that comes from the database can be used for mischievous purposes. People lying amongst their friends and families, however, has taken the opposite turn. You can’t simply write something on the bathroom stall anymore, and leave it there. People will now be able to check what you say against the truth. Even if you delete your lie, chances are it was either screenshotted, or it still exists somewhere on the internet. While this is a bad thing, it does offer some self-reflection as Hancock mentions, “And I think we’re going to see a lot more of that, where we can reflect on who we are by looking at what we wrote, what we said, what we did.” Will we like the person we see when we look back on our history that is written in ink? Liars of the past could get away with their lies fading into the past, but that isn’t true in today’s age.
The question I take from this is, how will this affect lying in the future? Will people find ways to cheat the system? Will they become more honest? Or will they still lie based on the situation, and whether or not they can be uncovered as a liar.