Why love bytes are so PC

I often reassure myself looking at the cables at the back that it really is only a machine
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The Independent Culture
MANY PEOPLE dislike their computers. They hit their machines, treat them badly, swear at them, and as a last resort, hurl them through the window.

They crash at the worst possible moment or slow down to unbearable speed. Such days are bad days. Sometimes, when things go wrong I find myself starring at the screen wondering how a machine can be so rude, crashing without a word of warning. How could I predict that installing my new sound card would upset my machine to the point that no network activity would be possible?

This lack of interest in having a dialogue with me is leading the relationship with my laptop down a dangerous path where I might have to trade it for a younger model. Perhaps a slim and sexy Toshiba Portage. Or even cooler, superslim Sony Vaio. Isn't it what happens in relationships where there is no communication?

According to Sanford University researchers, Clifford Nass and Byron Reeves, if the computers were more polite to us, spoke with a female voice and flattered us over jobs that were well done, we would be more forgiving when things turned nasty.

I still remember when it was cool to give your computer the start up voices of Hal from 2001 or Darth Vader from Star Wars. We were wrong, it transpires, as having a machine with a dominant, kick-ass, macho attitude is not conducive to developing a meaningful relationship that can survive crushes and frozen screens.

It can be your software, hardware, network or plain loose cables that put obstacles in the way of productivity. Error messages in techno-Klingon language rarely pass for a meaningful communication and self-problem solving for computers is a long way away. However, as the Stanford researchers point out, giving computers personality appears to strengthen resilience of users, whose commitment and patience will grow out of two way communication.

Interestingly, according to Nass and Reeves, people who have used computers for a longer period of time, had more propensity to anthropomorphisation of the machines. That means with time, our relationship with the silicon chips and a few wires grows on us, and leads us to project human personality on the computer. With gathering experiences, small successes and some failures we are developing a picture of the machine, and with time fill the uncomprehensible behaviour with explanations.

My mother thinks my laptop behaves just like me, unpredictable, neurotic with occasional flashes of brilliance. She says that like dogs, laptops reflect the owner's personality.

I often reassure myself looking at the cables at the back that it is only a machine. What confused me even more was giving my laptop a voice.

During a brief testing of AOL software I was called into communication by Joanna Lumley siren-like whisper saying invitingly: "You have mail!" Suddenly my e-mails, even to my accountant, have acquired a deeper tone of complicity, if not intimacy.

According to a character in Star Trek, intelligence, selfawareness and consciousness are the criteria for sentience. If equipping my laptop with Joanna Lumley personality will make me more productive then I will certainly go for it. However, what if it outsmarts me and starts questioning the content of my work, not just improving the speed of it? Can I bear criticism from a mid-range machine? If my computer was my teammate as opposed to my tool, would I be able to accept it's occasional superiority? All those questions are put, if not answered, in The Media Equation: How people treat computers by Nass and Reeves.

Read it, but meanwhile mail me with your comments on the relationship with your computer at Eva@never.com

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