“My mobile has just commited suicide”: humans, machines, and antropomorphisation

Have you ever heard someone rant at their computer, as if it were a living creature?  Ever done if yourself?  This brilliant short article deconstructs anthropomorphic usage of language in relation to machines using examples from the life of hackers, and suggests that:

The key to understanding this kind of usage is that it isn’t done in a naive way; hackers don’t personalize their stuff in the sense of feeling empathy with it, nor do they mystically believe that the things they work on every day are ‘alive’. To the contrary: hackers who anthropomorphize are expressing not a vitalistic view of program behavior but a mechanistic view of human behavior.

(The excerpt is Pt. 4,  Jargon Construction, from The Jargon File – a very lengthy compendium of hacker slang illuminating many aspects of hackish tradition, folklore, and humor– but just as very worth reading, full of insights and humour.  I keep it tucked in my “favourites” bar and read bits of it between my afternoon cups of coffee which is the time of day when my computer often refuses to co-operate with me and instead gets stuck working on its updates. I can’t help thinking that Bruno Latour would love to read this.)


Categories: The Idle Ethnographer

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