TED Talk Tuesday: The Future of Lying

“People lie for a reason,” or so says Jeff Hancock. And I think that’s true. Self-preservation and ego stand out to me as two reasons that people frequently lie. The question presented here, for me, is not why we lie or even how we lie (though that is Hancock’s focus). The question that interests me most is what are the consequences of our lies.

As Hancock alludes to, people for many centuries lied because it was very unlikely that they would be caught. Think back a few months to the U.S. Presidential elections. In those elections, as in most recent elections, you had people lying and being caught in their lies. Rewind 100 years and I’m guessing there was just as much, possibly more, lying. But what were the chances they were going to get caught? A politician could say one thing in one town and another thing in another town and it was highly unlikely that either town would be the wiser.

Today, all of that has changed. We live in an information-saturated society. Everybody is a writer, everybody a videographer, everybody a reporter. There is so much information out there about any given subject that you can Google almost any question and come up with an answer. And we are only increasing in this information output and consumption.

I recently read of two devices being developed for “life logging” – that is, recording nearly everything that happens in a person’s life. The current devices do this by taking photographs at short intervals – say, every 30 seconds – in order to catalog your day. Future devices will, no doubt, include video, audio and perhaps other atmospheric, biological or geographical data. In short, we are nearing a place where one will be able to have a searchable database of the occurrences of their life.

So, back to my question: What are the consequences of lying? Well, obviously, the more information that is available, the more difficult the ruse. The consequences of even the smallest lie could be catastrophic if there is a mountain of evidence that we, in fact, lied. In that sense, perhaps Hancock is right. Maybe the internet is making us more honest. Here’s to hope that theory holds true for politicians in the near future!