The butler lie

We’ve always lied; new technologies are merely changing the ways and the reasons we lie. Witness the “butler lie,” a term coined by Cornell University researchers in 2009 to describe lies that politely initiate and terminate instant messaging conversations. (“Gotta go, boss is coming!”) Like butlers, they act as social buffers, telling others that we are at lunch when we are just avoiding them.

The New York Times has a good short article on how technology isn’t change our behavior when it comes to lying. For the most part, it covered a Cornell research paper on butler lies (PDF link).

So, what exactly is a butler lie? The research paper offers this convenient guide:

Using deception to manage social interaction and awareness by…

…avoiding a new conversation:
“Yeah sorry I gtg. Studying with a friend.”
…smoothly exiting an ongoing conversation:
“Okay, back to work I go.”
…explaining other communication behavior:
“hey i just got your call. my phone wasn’t with me.”