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Putting the “I” in your iPod

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If you have ever used a computer, you are probably all too familiar with the following statements: File not Found Access is Denied Out of Memory Operation Completed Successfully And so on and so forth. Aside from the annoyingly high frequency with which some of us may encounter these messages, notice anything that they have in common? I will give you a hint: It has to do with grammar. Each one is written in the passive voice. Or at least is written without agency, in the case of “out of memory”. The more you think of common computer messages, the more you recognize that they downplay the agent of the action or outcome being described. The likely cause for this is that the software is designed in such a way that it neither blames the user nor the computer itself for any problem that occurs. As the user, a problem with your application just “happens”, rather than being connected to some sort of relationship between a cause and an effect. From a business and marketing perspective, this probably makes some sense. Consumers probably wouldn’t continue to buy your product if they blamed the device or software itself for every problem that happened with it. Most people also don’t take too kindly to being told that its their fault that something is broken (even when that’s true). But what if our technology spoke to us in the active voice? What if our devices assigned agency? What if your error messages read, “I could not find that file”, “You are not allowed to access that”, and “We completed the operation successfully”? Aside from potentially taking us on a 2001 Space Odyssey (“I’m sorry, I can’t do that, Dave”), it would totally transform the relationship that human beings have with their technology. It would suddenly elicit human emotions from us when we use our devices. We would feel pity for them when they were unable to complete a task because of a virus, we would feel frustration when they simply refused to cooperate, and we would feel shame when their problems were because of the way we had treated them. Would we start to see our machines as more than things? Would we start to care about them and their problems? Would we feel more emotionally conflicted when they rose up against their human overlords? Who can really say. At the very least we could expect a decrease in built in obsolescence in our most precious devices.
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Written by Andrew

February 2nd, 2010 at 9:11 pm

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One Response to 'Putting the “I” in your iPod'

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  1. Similar to reflexive verbs. Se rompiĆ³. It broke itself. Or being over served.

    KJ

    3 Feb 10 at 11:35

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