Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My computer, my friend

To suggest that people do not have a relationship with their computers would be a mistake. Everyone I know talks to their computer at one time or another. Most of the time, they are irritated and voicing their frustration, but, none-the-less, they are having some sort of “conversation” with their computer. Everyone knows the computer will not answer back (yet), but it cannot be helped. As a student, much of my time is spent working with my computer, so it should not come as a surprise that I would feel something when it doesn’t work properly. My computer is set up just the way I want, enabling me to find things quickly. Another computer may function just the same, but it may not be quite as pleasant of an experience.

A similar phenomenon exists with people and their cars. People have been naming their cars for as long as I can remember. In essence, this gives their car an identity and shows that they have some sort of relationship; so why should this emotion toward a computer seem so farfetched? Both the computer and the car are types of technology that we may spend countless hours working on, working with or riding in from place to place. These technologies are vehicles for our daily life, making a lot of what we do possible. Some of these technologies even take on human voices and characteristics, which could be why people give or attribute a human quality to these items.

The research I found interesting is the study that showed people are polite to computers. I suppose if you have attributed a human quality to a device, you would treat it in a similar manner as you would a person. We all know, in our head, the computers’ feelings cannot be hurt, but this research shows we may be thinking more emotionally than expected, possibly with our heart.

Emotions are often at the center of how we go about our day. Therefore, if my computer were to flatter me each time I turned it on, I may start my session in a better mood. The research suggests people are not partial to flattery from a computer versus flattery from a person. Interesting to think an insincere compliment from a computer could make you feel the same way as an insincere compliment from a person. Our reasoning could be that when you receive flattery from a person, there stands a chance it may be genuine. This is obviously not so with a computer, which goes to show that ego is a powerful part of our personality.

People often relate to other people with the same personality characteristics, so why not a computer with the same characteristics? People often say opposites attract, but the opposite (pardon the pun) may be true. People seem to be drawn to others with similar interests, similar styles and similar ideas. People can also be too much alike causing them to repel one another, hence opposites attract. However, people identify with others that they can relate to and personality characteristics are no exception. It should come as no surprise to me, but it does, that people would be attracted to a computer that is similar to their own personality. Once you have given a computer a human quality and feel emotional about it, it stands to reason you would be drawn to it if the personality characteristics were similar to your own.

One of the other studies pondered whether or not a computer could be male or female. Before I began reading the passage, I had no idea the researcher was going to use stereotypes to test for gender. I find it a bit offensive that, in 1997, the author was still attaching and reinforcing such stereotypes that have been present for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Of course these stereotypes still exist (even today) and I do not mean to suggest otherwise. But to create a study that puts them at the forefront of this research is, in my opinion, unimaginative. I suppose if you wanted to test for stereotypes this was the way to do it, but it was not what I was expecting.

I think that we are emotional beings who are protective of the things around us. The more time spent with something, the more protective you may become and the more personal these items may feel. They become a part of your world and without realizing, you have humanized your computer.

One final thought: as I googled humanized I found http://humanized.com/. The site has free software called ENSO which turns your caps lock button into a command key. You use it by holding down the caps lock button and typing in something simple and when you let it go, it puts your command into action. Haven’t tried it yet, but it looks interesting.

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