occurs via butler lies. We therefore
urge designers to weigh the value of
more information against the threat
to potentially valuable ambiguity.
Consider options that allow people
to share information at multiple
levels of detail (such as what city or
neighborhood they are in, but not
the specific address) and only with
specific contacts. Another possibility
is to allow for sharing information
with certain people temporarily,
rather than presuming constant
access. There may also be additional
ways to facilitate ambiguity by
reducing the normative imperative
to always appear available.
Second, there is a clear relational
component to butler lies that affects
both how they are used and whether they are likely to be successful.
Clear threats to the plausibility
of butler lies may affect not only
whether the lie is successful, but
also the relationship itself. Social
media tools such as Facebook and
Twitter further complicate matters
by not making it clear who has seen
or has access to certain information
(e.g., specific status updates, tweets,
etc.). We therefore urge designers to
consider ways to make it clear who
has access to and has seen specific
bits of information about others.
This would allow people to better
understand what others know, and
construct explanations more likely
to be effective.
In our current studies, we are
gathering additional data to examine other aspects of how people
send and receive butler lies via
text messaging. Our previous work
examined butler lies from the perspective of the person who sent the
message. Currently, we are collect-ing messages from conversational
partners. This allows us to examine
the same messages from the perspective of both the sender and the
receiver, which will help us to better
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understand how these messages are
received and interpreted.
In another current study, we are
using an Android application to
collect messages while manipulating additional contextual information (such as the user’s location)
that accompanies messages. This
method allows us to see how the
additional information impacts the
construction of these messages.
Lastly, we are using linguistic
analyses to examine how the properties of butler lies are different
from those of other message types,
including truthful butler messages
and general lies.
We also expect that butler lies
will be universal. We should see
them in every culture that has
adopted modern communication
technology, though of course we
expect the kinds of justifications
and explanations to vary across
cultures according to differences in
technical infrastructures and social
norms. For instance, in the U.S.,
calling and texting plans are often
unlimited, whereas in other countries each text or phone call requires
funds to be available on a SIM card.
We should, therefore, expect some
excuses to revolve around ambiguity
regarding fund availability that we
don’t see in the U.S. We should also
see differences dependent on interaction norms, such as the variability
in tardiness across cultures. Butler
lies for being late in Japan, where the
norm is punctuality, should be quite
different from those in Argentina,
where tardiness is more acceptable.
In conclusion, we believe butler
lies provide a useful window into
the broader sociotechnical problem
of unavailability and inattention
management. Our aim is to continue exploring and understanding this problem using a variety of
behavioral research methods and
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Jeremy Birnholtz is an assistant
professor in the Department of
Communication Studies at
Northwestern University. He is
interested in the management of
attention and inattention in inter-
actions among geographically distributed individu-
Jeff Hancock is an associate pro-
fessor in the Department of
Communication and co-chair of
the Department of Information
Science at Cornell University. His
work is concerned with how social
media affect psychological and
interpersonal processes, with a particular emphasis
on understanding how language can reveal psy-
chological and social dynamics.
Madeline Smith is a Ph.D. student
at Northwestern University in
Technology and Social Behavior,
a joint program between the
departments of Computer
Science and Communication. Her
research currently focuses on
relational, supportive, and deceptive aspects of
social and communication computing.
Lindsay Reynolds is a Ph. D.
candidate in the Department of
Communication at Cornell
University. Her research focuses on
deceptive interpersonal communication as well as aspects of collaborative play in multiplayer online games.
September + October 2012
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