Machine-Motivated Ethical Behavior

I’m a fan of technology that gives people more latitude in their social and physical relationships. We live in societies (and environments) laced with norms and expectations, and while many of our behaviors are focused on keeping the peace, they can conflict with personal motivations. 


As email became a significant form of communication, new norms developed around message brevity, level of formality, and duration between replies. Now it’s interesting how our habits are arranged around the many bleeps, interruptions, and rings of our mobile devices. It’s almost as though they have the same level of importance as other people in our presence, and sometimes they demand even more attention than those around us. 


There’s a class of apps and services that I’ve come to appreciate that work at the level of social etiquette. With so many shifting email, social media, and mobile device expectations, we’re often caught between what we want to do and what we are expected to do. 


They mainly fake calls, texts, or otherwise obscure and redirect important information, using the “honesty” of technology as a foundation. Fake texts and calls are used often as pranks, but they can also get people out of undesired social situations, provide a needed misdirection to move a conversation elsewhere, coerce others into doing tasks, and more.


I mapped some of the user comment boards to understand how people were using these apps. Here’s a sample:


I finally can get my sister to wash dishes, get off the living room tv, do things i dont want to do. All in the name of mom. :)


so funny made some girl in my contacts say she lykes My friend and showed him


This works great when you’re trying to get out of talking to someone you don’t wanna talk to!


Honestly I use this all the time now! When I want to stop talking to my friends I use it and say my boyfriend is calling me (which he didnt ) 😉 this is awesome 😀 GETT ITT


This app is totally cool. I pranked my sister into thinking her ex kept callimg me. I love it!!!!


Gets me out of boring latenight get togethers!!


But its awsome, it saves me from dumb dates!!


I almost fooled 2 of my friends at a time.. 1st one by faking his call by which he keeps on calling his mom to check wether his mobile lost or what and another by telling him that this call will reduce ur balance..ha ha..the best part is that I can fake a call from my girl crush ..


I use this to impress friends and the greatest of all having (911) call my phone


Love it I use it to prank my boyfriend about his friend calling me lol…


Got me out of wrk!! But it kinda such when a text come in and it ruin the plan ..


This app is AMAZING!!! I tricked my sister into thinking that the Police Department called me! :)


Just got me out of class like 5 min ago put my probation officers number jn said i had to leave school bye bye no questions


After doing my business with a girl, I hate having them in my room so this app gets them out quicker 😉


So you can see there’s a wide range of uses and situations. It raises compelling questions about honesty in technology and how much we rely on that honesty for many of our interpersonal interactions. 


But some of the comments remind me of how subtle interaction design can make a substantial difference in people’s lives.


this app is to cool and can get you out of a spot…also works good when ur fighting with wife act like the police call about noise…great app …


Made my brothers calm down when they were attacking me by faking a call saying it was my dad….they bought it for sure


It brings to mind the campaign from a few years ago called “ring the bell”. The attempt was to raise awareness about domestic violence and provide a tool to do something about it.  It highlights the subtle but critical role of interruptions from people, machines, buzzers, and other “animated agents” in the outcomes of everyday behavior.




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