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The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What We Can Learn About Ourselves from Our Machines Paperback – June 26, 2012

4.2 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Nass, a Stanford researcher, has the fascinating and enviable job of performing research into human interactions with technology. Question: Why did BMW receive so many complaints about its navigation system from male German drivers? Answer: German men refused to take directions from a woman (the system had a female voice). To find out if misery truly loves company, Nass paired happy and sad drivers with happy and sad virtual passengers, finding that miserable drivers preferred to be paired with miserable passengers (albeit virtual), and visa versa. The results are often intriguing, but when it comes to discussing their implications, Nass falters. His experimental anecdotes end with a "Results and Implications" appendix, and his findings often sound as banal as the platitudes he's attempting to test. The author is at his most compelling when describing technology's human failures in the marketplace, such as the demise of the despised Microsoft "Clippy," whose apparent stupidity and lack of empathy doomed him as an application (killing marketing plans to turn him into a beloved Mickey Mouse-like character). Moments like these make Nass's examination an engaging compendium of technological faux pas. (Sept.) (c)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"If Dale Carnegie had been a Google engineer, this is how he would have written "How to Win Friends and Influence People." Cliff Nass shows us how much we can learn about people by understanding how people interact with computers."
-Chip Heath, coauthor of "Switch" and "Made to Stick"
"With the help of real experiments, rather than anecdotes or impressions, Clifford Nass uses people's interactions with computers as a window into social and professional life. The book is filled with insights about an increasingly important part of our lives."
-Steven Pinker, Harvard College Professor of Psychology, Harvard University, and author of "How the Mind Works" and "The Stuff of Thought"
"With engaging illustrations and compelling evidence, Clifford Nass shows how interactions with our most advanced machines reveal our most primitive workings."
-Robert B. Cialdini, author of "Influence: Science and Practice"
"Nass and Yen serve up a wealth of practical, h
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Current (June 26, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1617230049
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617230042
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #477,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Ariel M'ndange-Pfupfu on September 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
People are social beings. It can be argued that the concept of self can only be defined in the context of our own interest in what other people are thinking and feeling. Nass realizes that these social behaviors may be so ingrained that they appear even when interacting with computers, and conducts his psychology experiments using machines as easily controllable partners.

The results are interesting. Many actual studies are described and explained, which I like better than a more prose-heavy argument. However, I disliked how few counterarguments were presented, and how simplistic people were at times made up to be. While there certainly are patterns in human behavior, I don't think situations are always as cut-and-dry as the authors make it sound.

Even if I don't think it's applicable to every situation, I learned a lot about social science from this book, and how to quantify or measure some abstract concepts. Things like retrograde interference, identification/interdependence, and valence/arousal are useful ways of thinking about how people behave, and they're explained very well. It is also particularly helpful that there is a focus on counter-intuitive findings, which end up making sense and forming an overarching consistent picture.

I can only echo Nass' praise of Corina Yen's writing, which must have made it able to transform a large quantity of data into a clearly presented argument, with the right emphasis and concision to make it an absorbing read. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to gain some insight into how people (yourself included) think and why they act the way they do. With practice I even think it will make me a better reviewer!
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Format: Hardcover
The topics covered in this book are worth learning about and I found myself instantly engaged after reading the first chapter online. However, after getting about halfway through the book, I found myself quite bored. The writing is very dry and the book follows a very cookie cutter format of laying out an experiment then explaining the results with quite a bit of unnecessary filler in between. There are many experiments where the results are quite obvious, and while I understand the need to prove them through experimentation, their explanations are often too drawn out.

This book could have easily been at least one-hundred pages shorter and made its point with far more precision (I don't know if it is just me but there was a definite overuse of exclamation points that made the writing seem less credible). I think perhaps the writer could have taken a few tips from his research to convey his information in a more digestible format.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Lie to your computer?

Well, sure. In today's high tech world, lying to one's computer is little different than sweet talking your car, pleading with a slot machine to produce a winning combo or threatening a big garden boulder that refuses to move.

In other words, it's really about how people react to situations good and bad. The basic reasoning is simple: People have an instinctive "personal" commitment to the task at hand. We are hard-wired to cooperate with others, as deftly explained by Michael Tomasello in 'Why We Cooperate.' As Nass and Yen make delightfully clear in case after case, it's human nature to talk to machines.

Many years ago, Dale Carnegie wrote the classic 'How to Win Friends and Influence People.' Nass would have would have listened to car drivers and truck mechanics and written "How to Talk to Your Car and Influence Trucks.' Since computers are now ubiquitous, he listens to people talk to computers. The result won't make the computer any smarter, but it does a lot for people.

The result is a superb book about people. Computers are like cats, the gods of our society. Neither cats nor computers listen to humans, but people pay attention to both and are much the better for it. Look at a Neolithic effigy and think of the conversations Neanderthals had with it.

The chapter on teams and team building is wonderful. Most team building gimmicks are like watching the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders -- they amuse the fans but don't teach players a thing about football. Fans want to see a winning team, more so than fancy pants dance routines.

In business, cheerleader events are "wilderness bonding" and other play-acting gimmicks.
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Format: Hardcover
It's great when a book that is this full of serious research is also well written and highly entertaining. Nass and Yen bring together a collection of experimental results that repeatedly demonstrate how people treat computers like other people, and how we can draw conclusions about human social behavior from these human-computer experiments. The book is a great read--informative and funny, if a bit creepy when you think through its implications. I wrote a longer reaction on my blog:[...]
Disclaimer: I received a review copy from the publisher.
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Format: Paperback
I found the book to be rather hobbled together and very, very self-congratulating. Every experiment is "amazing, revealing and surprising," and *all* of Nass' students are now studying that this or that top research institution. These are just minor flaws in tone that unfortunately work to sink the quality of this entire work.

The book is a summary of Nass' lifetime of research, targeted toward the professional self-help crowd for improving workplace social performance. The experiments are interesting and the conclusion are bold. The book itself is great; the author's attitude is a little hard to swallow.

The title is misleading, by the way. This is more of a general/mixed survey of how Nass' research uses computer stand-ins to operate as 'humans with fewer variables' in controlled experiments.
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