The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Televisions, and New Media as Real People and Places

Byron Reeves, Author, Clifford Nass, Joint Author
Byron Reeves, Author, Clifford Nass, Joint Author CSLI Publications $34.95 (317p) ISBN 978-1-57586-052-7
Paperback - 305 pages - 978-1-57586-053-4
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Fresh evidence of human gullibility never fails to entertain. Stanford professors Reeves and Nass provide plenty of cocktail-party ammunition with findings from 35 laboratory experiments demonstrating how even technologically sophisticated people treat boxes of circuitry as if they were other human beings. People are polite to computers, respond to praise from them and view them as teammates. They like computers with personalities similar to their own, find masculine-sounding computers extroverted, driven and intelligent while they judge feminine-sounding computers knowledgeable about love and relationships. Viewers rate content on a TV embellished with the label ""specialist"" superior to identical content on a TV labeled ""generalist"" (they even found the picture clearer on the ""specialist"" box). Reeves and Nass, who combine expertise in fine arts, communications, math, sociology, television and computers, were consultants to the world's foremost software corporation on the creation of the Microsoft Bob software package. Not surprisingly, their breezy tone and emphasis on the benign practical applications of their discoveries give their discussion an optimistic bias. Why not make media easier to use and more fun? Yet, their more important contribution may lie in alerting us to specific media dangers. The evidence of our suggestibility offers particularly powerful new arguments for monitoring children's television. And if the mere number of rapid-fire visual cuts in political advertisements really correlates with an impression of honesty, intelligence and sincerity, the more viewers who are put on guard, the better. (Sept.)
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