Interesting essay by Clive Thompson in NY Times Magazine arguing that the Internet generally makes people more honest:
- a Cornell professor recently claimed to have established the truth of a curious proposition: We fib less frequently when we're online than when we're talking in person. Jeffrey Hancock asked 30 of his undergraduates to record all of their communications — and all of their lies — over the course of a week. When he tallied the results, he found that the students had mishandled the truth in about one-quarter of all face-to-face conversations, and in a whopping 37 percent of phone calls. But when they went into cyberspace, they turned into Boy Scouts: only 1 in 5 instant-messaging chats contained a lie, and barely 14 percent of e-mail messages were dishonest.
Obviously, you can't make sweeping generalizations about society on the basis of college students' behavior. (And there's also something rather odd about asking people to be honest about how often they lie.) But still, Hancock's results were intriguing, not least because they upend some of our primary expectations about life on the Net.
....The digital age is tough on its liars, as a seemingly endless parade of executives are learning to their chagrin. Today's titans of industry are laid low not by ruthless competitors but by prosecutors gleefully waving transcripts of old e-mail, filled with suggestions of subterfuge. Even Microsoft was tripped up by old e-mail messages, and you would figure its employees would know better. This isn't a problem for only corporate barons. We all read the headlines; we know that in cyberspace our words never die, because machines don't forget. ''It's a cut-and-paste culture,'' as Hancock put it (though he told me that on the phone, so who knows? There's only a 63 percent chance he really meant it).