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The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships Hardcover – September 2, 2010

22 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.


"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, mind-expanding insights. This entertaining book will help you think afresh and gently lead you to social strategies that really work."
-Paul Saffo, Technology Forecaster, Discern Corporation

"The Man Who Lied to His Laptop is brilliantly accessible and will give you breakthrough insights about the single most important secret to success in business and life-building better relationships! This book is a must-read for every leader in these turbulent times."
-Mark Thompson, coauthor of Success Built to Last and Now, Build a Great Business!

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Current (September 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1617230014
  • ISBN-13: 978-1617230011
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #852,108 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Theodore A. Rushton on September 20, 2010
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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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful 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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Dan on February 20, 2011
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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Daniel Tunkelang on September 12, 2010
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Nancyhua on February 6, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Nass designs many interesting social experiments based on the premise that humans react similarly to machines as they do to other humans, so that machines are at least as suitable experiment confederates as human assistants since their actions are programmed and deterministic. In his own words, "I've uncovered many of these findings through my discovery that people treat computers and other interactive technologies like actual people. Watching people work with computers in social situations lets me strip away complexity and get to the fundamental truth of everyone's interactions."

Although it seems to me like some of experiments could have design flaws or overly simplistic conclusions, the research is relevant and interesting, dealing with a broad array of topics such as how people respond to mindless flattery versus informed compliments, the impact of valence emotions, modesty versus praise, the importance of imitation, interdependence and identification in teams, cognitive reframing, and the rule of reciprocity.

I liked how the book was organized with first the description of the question, then the experiment design, then the results and implications, and then each chapter ending with a summary of key points. Because Nass often works as an consultant to businesses or software design companies, the research and implications were often related to business situations, resulting in advice from perspectives such as the most effective way to deliver negative criticism to coworkers, or how to be viewed as an expert. This book was not technical, assumes no prior knowledge, and appeals to a broad audience. It is more about human-human interaction as revealed through human-computer interaction experiments than it is about computers or technology, except for the underlying assumption that humans at least somewhat treat computers as people.
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