Everybody lies

Everybody lies

I just finished a fascinating book called ‘Everybody Lies: What the Internet can tell us about who we really are’ by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. The author is an economist who specialises in what is known as ‘Big Data’, information collected from Google searches and large databases. In our world where everything is online, it is much simpler to track and find out what people are really thinking about. Most people tell Google things they would never tell anyone else.

This is not a Christian book, but it reveals some things about human nature which would not be surprising to Christians.

  1. Everybody lies to survey takers. Traditionally, social scientists have gathered information from carefully-constructed surveys which are asked to a cross-section of the community. This data is then examined, and conclusions are drawn from it. The problem is that people lie to surveys, even ones that promise anonymity. A great example from the book concerned the impact of racism in the election of Barrack Obama. According to all survey-based studies, racism was not a factor at all. No-one admitted to voting for the other candidate because of the colour of Obama’s skin. So how can you tell if racism is actually an issue? You can look for offensive or racist Google searches in particular locations or the activity on white supremacist bulletin boards (which are more common than you might think). When you map this information and compare it to the places where Obama received the lowest vote counts, the maps line up almost exactly. It would seem many Americans are more racist than they will admit to someone taking a survey.
  1. Everybody lies to other people. Anyone who has spent time on social media knows this. Although Facebook data is extensive, it is always biased to make the user look good. There are more photos of great holidays than sad days alone. The most-shared news articles are from high-brow sources, even though tabloids have the same online views. This means that although people are reading tabloids and trashy gossip, they would rather their friends think they are intellectual and engaged with more serious issues.
  1. Everybody lies to themselves. When you analyse Netflix data, you discover something interesting. The movies and TV shows that users mark as things they want to watch later tend not actually to be watched later. Why is this? It is because many of us mark things like documentaries and classic films which we feel we should watch, but when it comes to actual watching, romance and action movies tend to win out. We are aspirational; we wish we actually wanted to watch the deeper things, but in reality, we want something trashier.

None of this should surprise Christians. We are sinners. We know we are, so we spend significant time putting on a front to look better to other people. Those same other people are also lying to us.

Like so often, research confirms what Christians already know from the Bible. We deceive ourselves into thinking we are better than we are.

This underscores how much we need Jesus. We are nowhere near as good and pure as we think we are. We are people who are often secretly involved in things we hope others don’t find out about. If being right with God was about being good enough, we are nowhere near even the moral standards we expect from ourselves. Thank God that he saves even people like us when we realise our sinfulness and come to Jesus for help.