Anthropomorphizing Technology

I’ve just read an extract of Clay Shirkys Cognitive Surplus book in the Times along with a very good interview about him and other web gurus. Unfortunately you have to pay to get Times articles these days (hmmm. Ironic) but there’s a good review if it in Guardian. There are lots of good videos on YouTube of him talking about the concept of cognitive surplus so I encourage you to listen to them.

Clay Shirky

…anyhow I could spend the rest of the year dissecting Shirky’s writing because I love his enthusiasm and agree with much of what he says but what I wanted to get out in this post is the fact that people are really anthropomorphizing technology. He does it and Skirky has particularly emotional prose about the internet and how when he used the internet in 1992 it was an emotional experience for him (his brain flipped out!), his compatriots do it when they write about the internet and technology and we’re all doing it as a society.

I was out drinking with Martin Weller the other week (always a bad idea) and we got to talking about the fact the friends of ours talk about a piece of technology with such irrational love and affection that to an outsider it seems bizarre but to us it’s quiet normal although we might not always share their love of a particular technology. Some people at the OU for example love FirstClass because we’ve used it at the OU since the mid 90’s and some feel a kind of ownership of it that others might not.

It’s not just ownership though but a sense that the technology is life enhancing.  Take the recent ‘buzz’ about the iPad. When all is said and done the iPad technology is not a big leap forward from that of tablet PC’s or indeed from Apple’s own iPhone but it really got into people emotionally in a way that I haven’t seen a technology do to the same extent before. It was slightly scary to see the reaction of some people to it and how they talk about it as if it is a living breathing thing.

I think there are two distinct patterns here.

1. A kind of addictive quality to new technology where it fills a gap that people never knew they had.

2. A sense of ownership and stakeholding for technology that has been around a long time and has given that person a wholesome experience over a sustained period of time so that they have become personally involved with the technology in a way they wouldn’t have imagined when they first saw it.

Both these have parallels to relationship building. The instant attraction of new lovers, and the slowly growing deep love of long term relationships.

…I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

Clowning Around?

I’ve hardly blogged at all recently (been on twitter lots) – There’s a debate raging about whether twitter kills blogging. We’ve been having the debate using cloudworks which is our very nice home grown system and I intend to give my opinions of that in another post, but suffice to say I love it.

…anyhow back to my point. By far the most traffic to my blog was generated from my post about Why Clowns are Dangerous. This has in fact also spawned a lot of quite vitriolic and IMHO (!) self opinionated comments, these tend to be light on research and factual evidence but heavily packed with personal insults.

From this I summise:-

1. Michael Wesch is spot on in his analysis about behaviours around anonymity and rage. Particularly people  think they know me from what is a very incomplete set of criteria by which to judge….and for the record my sister runs a circus troupe and regularly dresses in a clown costume. There is a recognised condition around clowns and their fear. Stephen Kings “IT” is directly playing on that association.

2. Clowns are not something to make fun of. Clowns take themselves very seriously.

3. My sister runs a circus troupe (performing arts and trapeze and the works) so there is a clown in my family 🙂

4. The more bizarre the blog post the more traffic it generates. My second most popular post is on silent vacuum cleaners. Therefore ridding the world of scary clowns and noisy vacuum cleaners is likely to make someone very popular.

5. Most people don’t get irony. Or humour. Going back to 1, this is probably to do with the other 55% non verbal communication. Or it could be that people only expect blogs to be ‘either’ comical or serious and not a mixture.

6. People make assumptions. All the time. We forget past things that don’t fit those assumptions and concentrate on the latest things that do. Derren Brown would have a field day. Or am I making assumptions?