Dwight Moody once noted that, “Character is who you are in the dark.” As I’ve noted in other posts, it is equally true that most of us behave better when we are watched or held accountable. What does this mean about life in the digital world? Given that there are plenty of times when we are not being watched, it is sometimes easier to tell a white lie than to tell the truth. Or, we are sometimes tempted to leverage the power of the web plus our partial anonymity to provide slight misrepresentations. Consider the following twelve white lies of the digital age, but please don’t take them too seriously, especially my use of sarcasm an a bit of hyperbole with the “It means” statements.
1. “Strange. I never received that email.” It means, “I was procrastinating, avoiding, or ignoring you.”
2. “I sent you three emails about this.” – It means, “I thought about contacting you.”
3. “It must have gone to my junk mail.” – It means, “I deleted it.”
4. “I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time and…” – I just Googled it and am skimming it as I write or talk to you on the phone.
5. “I was just talking to someone about that the other day.” – I read a Tweet or Facebook post about it. (Yes, I know that you can argue about this one.)
6. “Doctor, I’m feeling…[fill in the blank].” It means, “I went to WebMD and self-diagnosed. Now I’m just trying to get you to agree with me.”
7. “Professor, I”m not sure why you can’t open the document. It looked fine on my computer. I will try to send it again right away tomorrow morning.” – It means, “I took an image, changed the file ending to “doc” and sent it as a paper. When you couldn’t open it, and emailed me, that gave me another day or two to finish up the actual paper and submit it.”
8. “Sorry. I was traveling and didn’t have access to wi-fi.” It means, “I was traveling and did have access to wi-fi.”
9. “The web site was down, so I couldn’t submit my paper last night, but I have it now.” – It means, “I stayed up all night to write this paper.”
10. “My computer locked up and I lost everything.” It means, “This is the digital equivalent of ‘My dog ate my homework.'”
11. “I didn’t know that my timed test would not pause when I went offline.” – It means, “I ran out of time.”
12. “I searched all of the databases and there is nothing on my topic.” – It means, “I’m not sure how to use the library database.”
It is certainly possible that any of these actually did happen. In fact, over the past year, I can remember saying at least half of them and they were the truth. However, given the partial anonymity of the web-based communication, our desire to avoid conflict, avoid consequences, not lose face, or be seen in a favorable light, they are alive and well in the digital world.