jb… a weblog by Jonathan Buys

Emotions and Machines

I’ve been using different forms of computer “chat” for over ten years now, starting with operator-to-operator communications over a 9600baud satcom circuit in the Navy. Over time, I’ve become used to using certain forms of “emoticons” to convey subtle nuances in the conversation that are unnecessary in face to face communications. I even have friends with whom I communicate with entirely over chat.

Over the summer my cousin appeared on chat, and I tried to have a conversation with her. She was not familiar with the conversational tone and rhythm of chat, which made the interface difficult and frustrating, to the point where we both simply decided to go back to email.

Apple understands the human element of their devices possibly more than any other company in their field. Their advertising plays to your emotions, and their products are designed to elicit an emotional response; an appreciation for their beauty. Technology like Skype and Apple’s FaceTime video chat removes one layer of abstraction between you and the person you are trying to communicate with, and allows the emotional facial queues that are so important in communication to come through.

If my cousin and I were chatting face to face rather than over the keyboard, I imagine our stunted conversation would have lasted a bit longer than it did.

Another point I’d like to make about emotion and computers is that even if you do see your computer as simply a machine, a tool to accomplish a task, it is difficult to use a tool for any serious length of time, with a serious financial investment without an emotional connection to the tool. A carpenter is likely to have his favorite hammer, a mechanic his favorite ratchet, and anyone who uses a computer to create something will have their favorite brand, and strong reasons for choosing that brand.

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