One of my buddies just sent me a link to a really interesting article on our relationships with technological devices.
Yes, that's right, I said relationships - and appropriately so, because that's just what the research discussed in the article covered: the emotional and personal connections that we inadvertently make with our inert and non-living tools.
Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, noticed that human beings often treat their computers, iPods, and other technological devices as though they had feelings of their own. When they don't do what we want them to, we get mad at them...when we inadvertently break them, we feel sad...and when we use them consistently, we might even find ourselves conversing with them.
Is it really true that we can't help but form relationships with the electronic tools that we use every day? A growing body of research suggests that it is.
For example, Nass studied the extent to which our natural tendency to form in-groups and out-groups carries over to machines. He separated people into two groups, a green team and a blue team, and paired them with a computer that was either the same color as their team (described as a "teammate") or unrelated to their team's color. What he found was that participants gave much more favorable reports of their interaction with the computer if it carried the same color as their team - a totally illogical yet very real phenomenon that was reproduced many times.
In another example, researchers tackled the decade-old object of my hatred, "clippy" from the Microsoft Suite. While subjects originally reported this little character as nothing short of an unhelpful nuisance, researchers found that they could very easily alter users' relationship with Clippy in a dramatic way. Instead of just telling you what to do, the researchers made Clippy ask whether or not his advice was helpful, and if the user selected no, he continued by berating the Microsoft corporation and suggesting that an angry letter get sent. The result - users started to like Clippy, found him helpful. Their anger had been turned to companionship.
These kinds of findings hold many ramifications for the real world and in the ways in which we can interact with objects of our own creation. It seems like every day we come to rely upon machines for getting through our daily lives, and perhaps it is no surprise that we become attached to them just as we would to any being that we interact with regularly.
Without getting too "dystopian future with robots ruling us all," I'd be interested in seeing whether or not the presence of robots or computers could provide an adequate substitute for adequate human interaction. If we act towards these machines as we would to other living things, perhaps their effects on us are similar as well.