The author, smiling winningly Scott Raymond home

People and machines

05 Oct 2000

Especially since interfaces have become more friendly, it’s regularly observed that people project human qualities onto their computers. They speak of them as though they have emotions, and get angry with them when they don’t work, etc. Often, this anger arises not because the computer malfunctioned, but because it did what the user told it to do rather than what the user wanted it to do. Users get used to thinking of the machine in human terms, and then feel jarred when it can’t make judgements and interpretations, like a human can.

What I’m more interested in, though, is how computers, and technology in general, change the way people interact with each other. I typically spend a large portion of my day interacting with machines. My computer does exactly what I tell it to do, and no more. I tell the ATM machine I want money and it askes me how much. In my normal interactions—that is, my interactions with nonhumans—any unexpected result is almost always my fault. As a result, I’ve noticed that sometimes I expect my human interactions to work in the same way. I am accustomed to having my commands being carried out immediately and precisely, without any pesky emotions getting in the way. So when I’m talking with people, I have to remember to include the optional command syntax like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. When conversations go awry I want to dismiss them like dialog boxes. Sometimes I get confused and frustrated, just for a second, when someone doesn’t act on my requests instantly. It makes me want to look at their task manager and find out what’s wrong. (know what I mean?)