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Book Review: The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships by Clifford Nass

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In The Man Who Lied to His Laptop, Clifford Nass presents scientifically grounded findings on effective methods to praise and criticize, form teams, manage emotions, and persuade others. Nass is a professor at Stanford University and director of the Communication between Humans and Interactive Media Lab. He explores the theory that the human brain cannot distinguish between interacting with other humans and interacting with technology.

Just as many people are afraid their computer will turn against them or fear doing the wrong thing and being rejected by a temperamental machine, Nass’s rules for effective human relationships run parallel to our interaction with computers.

You’ll relate to his observations of people’s behavior with computers when you read of the author’s work with Microsoft, trying to figure out why people hate the Microsoft Clippy icon. You may recall the typical reaction to the bouncing paper clip trying to help users. As Nass says: “The mere mention of his name to computer users brought on levels of hatred usually reserved for jilted lovers and mortal enemies.” Turns out, our hostility was in part because humans expect computers to act as though they were people and get annoyed when technology fails to respond in appropriate ways.

In other research, Nass’s work as a leading expert on how people interact with technology led him to explore reactions to the use of female voices to give driving directions on a GPS system. Could it really be that people resented taking direction from a woman? Yes.

Along the way, Nass discovered studying how people interact with computers was the best way to study how people interact with each other. The Man Who Lied to His Laptop covers the specific experiments he used to test his theories and explains results and outcomes in detail.

The book’s Epilogue does a nice job of wrapping up the ways you might use these insights, such as learning the fundamental principles of consistency and hedonic asymmetry when working on team building, persuasion and getting along with different personalities. If a computer can do it, so can you.

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About Helen Gallagher

  • the real bob

    How funny! When I first got GPS and set it to the female voice, I explained “I’m not having a man tell me every move to make!” Turns out people would RATHER have a man tell them where to go. Nice review!

  • http://www.releaseyourwriting.com Helen Gallagher

    Thank you, Miss Bob. I enjoy your writing here too.
    Helen