Lying to a friend.
Exaggerating a resume.
Astroturfing on Yelp.
These are all common types of everyday deception. In fact, lying is practically a reflex – to protect ourselves, to preserve relationships, and to smooth out an uncomfortable social situation.
However, I believe that there are aspects of everyday deception that we impose on others and ourselves that we must proceed with caution as we live our lives in the digital age. While it is true that people today don’t lie any more than in the past (believe it or not – even when half of our identities are lived only virtually), the amount of this communication that is recorded and circulating – ready to haunt us at any moment – is astonishing.
In fact, if understood – this could dramatically alter the way we, as individuals, determine how and where we choose to share our “everyday lies.”
In a thought-provoking TED Talk, titled, “The future of lying,” Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at Cornell University, Jeff Hancock, addresses the very perplexity of what technology and social media has shaped our everyday lies and truths into.
He begins with a very basic question to the audience: “Who has ever sent a text message saying ‘on my way’?….or ‘sorry I didn’t text you back earlier, my battery was dead?’” After getting a quick laugh and nod from the audience, he replies, “well, then you have also lied.”
The fascinating aspect about Professor Hancock’s talk was not the fact that he addressed, as a psychologist would, the phenomenon of deception today (ie. online dating, sex chatrooms, etc.), but the aspect of lying that is most important and meaningful to us as humans: how all this affects our relationships with our close ones.
He brings up the rarely-mentioned fact that, between linguists, it is fairly agreed upon that humans began speaking between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago (that’s about 100 billion people who lived before then), and humans only developed writing about 5,000 years ago with the printing press (though literacy rates did not begin rising until way later).
Thus, every word and utterance that these humans made disappeared the second they uttered them. Zero trace.
Now, fast forward to the 21st century, and everything is recorded – from that text message we sent this morning to casual comments on Twitter. Professor Handcock gave his talk back in 2012, and he predicted that everything we say, write, and do will be recorded. Now, as we approach 2016, that could not be more accurate. Think: security cameras, GPS tracking systems, fingerprint technology, police with hidden cameras, etc. According to Hancock, humans “have been evolving in a way to talk in which there is no record;” however, the truth is that now every bit of our lives is being recorded (if not by ourselves, then by others).
So, to conclude, I think it is important for every one of us who live in this extremely networked age to take some time to look at what we put in our records, and see whether it truly reflects who we are and who we want to be remembered as. Because, even though what we say seems insignificant at the moment – once we hit “post” or “send,” whatever we have said or done becomes part of our legacy.