Aaargh!!! Scary Evil Computer!!

01Feb10

Look at those teeth!

Scary Evil Computer

That's pretty scary.

At least it’s not moving… Doesn’t look like it’s going to cause us any trouble… it’s just watching… quietly.

Those damn computers are everywhere aren’t they? Firmly a part of our society. One thing’s for sure – we love them and we hate them.

It’s obvious that computers are invading our lives. I’ve just finished reading Alan Cooper’s book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum (which I thoroughly recommend) and it talks about how computers are invading simple everyday objects like cameras and cars and even submarines.

Why? Because often it’s easier to give a machine a microchip and write the behaviour into software than wiring the behaviour mechanically. But this isn’t always a good thing. From a camera taking a full seven long seconds to load before it’s ready to take a photo, to a car that switches the engine off whenever it goes round a corner too fast, to a submarine that loses all power because of a “divide by zero” error in the software!

It used to be easy to set an alarm clock to ring at a certain time whereas now, although you get more “functionality” from alarm clocks (like a billion ringtones), they can be so much trickier to use that there’s a good chance of screwing it up and sleeping in. Do we really need all these features?

And when Scary Evil Computers don’t work or do what they’re supposed to do, it enrages us. Alan Cooper describes how studies have shown that as computers get smarter, we treat them more like we treat humans. In that case, we’d better give this Scary Evil Computer a name… Sheila.

If Sheila was a fellow human being instead of a Scary Evil Computer, and you asked her for something and she didn’t reply, or she gave you some unhelpful response, or told you that you were banned from carrying out that action, or that your internet doesn’t appear to be connected when it bloody well is, I reckon you’d get annoyed with Sheila… Why can’t Sheila be more helpful? We’re much more likely to enjoy working with Sheila if she showed some cooperation and politeness, rather than ignoring or blaming us.

And what about the future? Think of the children! Recently, my friend put an ultrasound scan of her unborn baby on facebook. I can guess already that every picture she ever takes of that poor defenceless child is going to end up on that site. What about when that baby grows into a 50 year old man, with 20 million photo taggings? I’m just saying.

But there’s no denying that technology can also be good. I’ve just got myself one of those iPhone gadgets and it’s pretty smart. Email, the web, live TV, music, banking, games… you name it. And yep, even facebook. All in the palm of my hand. That’s a lot of functionality, and accessible to me “anywhere”. Life can never be boring again right? How many iPhones do you suppose have been accidentally dropped down the potty?

As good as those smart phones are, letting computers rule our lives to this extent is worrying. About a year ago, when I was feeling especially worried, I googled the phrase “evil computer” and found the above image of Sheila (gracious thanks to the owner of this image, probably http://batman.no/ hope it brings you lots of hits, I couldn’t find a way to get in touch with you to ask permission to use the image, sorry). Then I set it as my browser home page. That way, every time I logged on, I was reminded that I should be outside enjoying the great outdoors, rather than being cooped up in a stale room with a computer.

UK Snow

The Great British Outdoors (Feb 2010)

That’s the end of this pilot post. In case you’re wondering about the irony associated with reading a blog someone writes to moan about technology, I should mention that the general theme for this blog is going to be User Experience Design and Human Computer Interaction. It’s going to be about making computers less annoying. But anything rantworthy might appear here. Until next time.

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