Computers Aren’t People

Like this article in The Onion, we tend to anthropomorphize technology. Like the woman in the article, I talk about how my computer hates me or about how my phone seems to know exactly when to run out of battery power. We give machines human emotions and motives. But for how complex these machines are, they aren’t people. Even the Terminator, was incapable of really understanding feelings.

It seems dangerous to give technology agency. Talking about how the computer has changed with world ignores the fact that human beings designed, built, and marketed that computer. Moreover, it hides the marketing mechanisms behind these technologies. candycrushEvery day we’re told to buy the latest gadget, the newest app, or more lives in Candy Crush. In fact, in an article in The Guardian, psychologist Steve Sharman points out that games like Candy Crush are designed to be addictive:  “The illusion of control is a crucial element in the maintenance of gambling addiction … [as it] instills a feeling of skill or control,” he says. “There are a number of in-game features [such as the boosters in Candy Crush] that allow players to believe they are affecting the outcome of the game, and in some cases they are, but those instances are rare.” In other words, Candy Crush is addictive because people made it that way.

The interactivity of these new technologies may explain why we map human emotions onto them.  Did medieval monks blame their quills when they split and quit working correctly?  Did Gutenberg blame his press for being moody if a lever broke?  But my laptop seems to respond to my needs. Now that websites track our webtraffic and suggest things we would like, the humanness of my laptop is greater than ever. And yet, these suggestions come with strings – lack of privacy, access to social networks, and as always, a call for more spending.

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