Technology and Reality: Did the Truth Die in 2009?

BlogHer Original Post

Our hold on the truth is tenuous at best. We are, after all and by all accounts, a nation comfortable with lying. We lie to each other all of the time-- strangers and loved ones alike. And we lie to ourselves. The truth has taken a profound beating this past year. And I am beginning to wonder if most folks even noticed. 

Robert Feldman, in his book, The Liar in Your Life, talks about our propensity to lie. Our culture and our upbringing teaches us to lie constantly and well, he says. And he proves it by citing study after study that shows that not only do we lie but we are not very good (nor diligent) at detecting lies by others. In addition to the inaccuracy of lie detection technology and techniques, we humans are predisposed to belief. He calls our tendency to believe, or more accurately, our tendency to not question the statements and gestures of others "truth bias". Feldman says:

The truth bias means that rather than objectively judging the honesty of those with whom we interact based on their behavior and what they say, our default belief is that they're telling the truth. Someone needs to give us a compelling reason to think they're lying. Otherwise, the idea never occurs to us."
When you combine our truth bias with technology, you've got the makings of a gullible population. We generally believe what we are told and what we see. Even the cynical few of us are willing to buy-in most of the time, because we want  to believe. Reality shows, for example, feed us a constant diet of artificiality. We know that people do not argue, cry and fight constantly in their everyday (when the camera is not present) lives. The producers of these shows employ all kinds of technological tools to trick us. Did you know that reality show producers use a technique called "Frankenbiting" where they splice together the lines of dialog from different places and times in order to create conversation between reality show participants that did not actually occur? They literally put words into their mouths that are out of order and context. Whoa! I knew that these shows were far from the reality they claim to be. But Frankenbiting is even beyond my cynical reach! posted about one episode in the (non)reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians:

Khloe Kardashian’s ex, NBA star Rashad McCants, told Page Six that Khloe and Kourtney’s Miami reality show is completely fake. Rashad had a bit part on an episode when he was still (supposedly) dating Khloe. The basketball player said the two Kardashians (and probably a slew of producers) completely fabricated the storyline.

In the show, Khloe and Kourtney hacked into Rashad’s phone and found sexy voicemails from other girls. (via Page Six) He said the curvy sisters did not have his current phone number and he and Khloe 'had already called it quits” in January, before the segment was even taped.'

That episode was actually one of only two I have ever viewed. As I was watching, I thought the whole hacking-into-the-boyfriend's-phone was far-fetched, but I accepted it in that moment. Interestingly, we value the truth and we ascribe importance to stories that are true. The very draw of reality shows is that the drama is real and authentic. If the Kadashians were just another sit-com, few would watch. But the idea that these events and conflicts are actually happening to someone is what keeps us coming. So we super-impose truth where we know it doesn't exist. We are willing to play along. How long did folks let Jerry Springer string them along this way? Too long, right?

Recently, armed with technology and our desire to believe, some folks have truly taken us for granted. Let's start back at 2008 Summer Olympics. During the opening ceremonies, how much did we love the cute little girl in the red dress who sang China's National Anthem. Despite all of the awe-inspiring attractions of the ceremony, people found this little girl the most memorable part because she put a welcoming face on the event and China. Only later did we discover that she was a fraud. It was not her voice that we were hearing. She was electronically merged with a less-cute but highly talented little girl, who was not pretty enough for us to see. Incidentally, some of the fabulous fireworks we viewed were also computer-generated.

And how about social media lies? Lori Drew was in the news again this year. She is the woman who with her fake teenage-boy identity bullied Megan Meier until Megan committed suicide. Drew had a mistrial and then the judge overturned her conviction. Prosecutors are struggling to convict these new kinds of Internet crimes based on dishonesty and fraud with malicious intent. But they had better figure it out quickly because this kind of behavior, though most not as extreme as Drew's, is rampant among teens. According to the National Crime Prevention Center:

over 40% of all teenagers with Internet access have reported being bullied online during the past year. Girls are more likely than boys to be the target of cyberbullying. Also, there is a direct correlation to the amount of time girls spend online and the likelihood that they will be bullied. Only 10% of those kids who were bullied told their parents about the incident, and that a mere 18% of the cases were reported to a local or national law enforcement agency.

And what about all of the celebrity lies this year. We seem to revel in celebrity untruths. Celebrity sites and blogs proliferate for the sole purpose of catching celebrities at their lying game-- Chris Brown (Rihanna's beating), Sammy Sousa (source of new skin color), Governor Mark Sanford (Argentina), Jude Law (another baby's mama) and on and on. It's ironic that the companies Tiger Woods endorsed are withdrawing their support on the heels of his marital affair discoveries. Yes, he lacks all credibility. He has been shown to be a mega-liar and a cheat. But advertisers know how forgiving we all are about these things. And they also know that they themselves are not exactly pillars of truth. We are so accepting of truth-stretching in advertising that we only become alarmed when, at the hands of skillful (or perhaps not so skillful) Photo-shoppers, we notice body parts missing from our favorite covergirls. We finally cried foul when we discovered that Demi Moore had only one hip and long-time Ralph Loren model, Hilary Rhoda's head was almost twice the size of her waist!

And I could post volumes about the lies and un-realities in this political realm. What started at new heights during the 2008 election has only gotten worse. We are only sensitive to the stretching truths on the other side of the partisan fence. But there are whoppers everywhere. Fox vs. MSNBC is a shameless contest of deceit on TV. But dishonesty is being spun not just on television, but on every media front. The use of social networking sites come at a price for politicians. Sarah Palin is a Twitter regular. But according to Kendra Cunningham at, Palin's Twitter account had to be verified (which is a new Twitter device for authenticating accounts of celebrities) because there are so many other "Sarah Palins" tweeting away, as well. Do we care to verify all of the not-quite-true Twitter utterings of all of these Palins (including the real one)? When it comes to politics, as with all things, I love Christine's of  ThinkingMother's post about her wariness of the global warming/climate change debate. She reminds us to question everything and "follow the money":

I want people to think. Let's not allow ourselves to be fools! I don't want to be led blindly and I don't like others allowing themselves to be led blindly. I don't want to just believe what I hear, or digest propaganda as fact and I wish more people felt that way. It takes time and energy to research, read, consider sources, to try to follow the money, and to try to read between the lines. Realize the bias. See who will profit from passing certain laws. Who is starting a business that seeks to be the one and only answer to stop a stated problem?

What matters is the truth. We must all try to find the truth.

Since Robert Feldman claims we have to work past our truth bias and call ourselves and others on our collective penchant for dishonesty, I am going to heed ThinkingMother's advice as a New Year's Resolution-- question everything and follow the money.

Do you think truth is lost? How do you and your family handle the honesty issue? Do you discuss accuracy and truthfulness in the media at home?

Talk about it in the Family Connections Group now.

ThinkAct:Proactive Black Parenting


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