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The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places (CSLI Lecture Notes S)

4.1 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1575860534
ISBN-10: 1575860538
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Reeves and Nass (Ctr. for the Study of Language and Information, Stanford Univ.) have written a fascinating book on how humans interact with computers and other media. Their media equation, "media=real life," means that people respond to the mediated world and the real world in the same fundamentally social and natural way. The authors explain that since the human brain has not evolved to respond to 20th-century technology, it processes media as if they were real life. To prove their equation, the authors combed through existing social science and psychology experiments that tested person-to-person responses in social interactions but changed the experiments to test person-to-computer interaction. In all cases, the results supported the media equation, demonstrating that people interact with media just as they interact with other humans. Maintaining a jargon-free, readable style, the authors share their obvious enjoyment of the humorous situations that often arose during the experiments. In their conclusion, they call on engineers to heed this media equation and improve the design of computers for more effective human-to-media interaction. Recommended for larger public libraries and academic libraries.?Ann Babits Grice, East Brunswick P.L., N.J.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Series: CSLI Lecture Notes S
  • Paperback: 305 pages
  • Publisher: Center for the Study of Language and Inf (January 29, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1575860538
  • ISBN-13: 978-1575860534
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #418,274 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The media equation, as introduced by Nass and Reeves, is that "media equals real life" and that our interactions with media are "fundamentally social and natural" (p. 5). This book is a popularization of established, replicated research on how people interact with television advertising, tutoring systems, error messages, loud noises, sudden movement, etc. For instance, one widely replicated result is that computer tutoring systems get better evaluations if the evaluation program is run on the same computer. Moving the reviewer to a new computer (with the same program), significantly lowers the score. The social science literature shows that teachers who collect their own evaluations score much more highly than those whose evaluations are collected by others. This is the kind of evidence Nass and Reeves bring to bear in support of the media equation. They don't claim that we are consciously thinking about the computer's feelings and don't want to hurt them. Rather, to the contrary, subjects claim they were doing no such thing. Yet the evidence of our behavior seems incontrovertible.
The media equation is a good enough predictor of user behavior, at least for telephone-based spoken dialog systems of the form my company builds, that it has informed our designs from top to bottom. Our applications apologize if they make a mistake. Callers respond well to this. Sure, the callers know they're talking to a machine, but this doesn't stop them from saying "thank you" when it's done or "please" before a query or feeling bad (or angry) if the computer can't understand them.
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Format: Paperback
The authors explain their hypothesis that people tend to treat computers, television and new media like they would human beings, and that people react to media-based presentations as if they were real-life situations -- even when people consciously realize this is not the case. It's a really interesting premise and the authors do an excellent job explaining their ideas.
The only reason I didn't give this work 5 stars is that the authors do not provide enough data on the results of their experiments. They frequently mention "significant" results, but they do not offer the results themselves for the reader to decide just how significant those results may be. This book is clearly written for a large audience, most of whom probably prefer to have the authors offer an interpretation without padding the work with lots of charts and tables. I would have liked a footnote or two with the actual experiment data, but regardless it's an excellent and intriguing read.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in interface design or media studies.
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Format: Hardcover
This book presents a series of social psychology experiments which demonstrate that in almost all respects people treat media representations of people and places like the real thing. The rules and social cues which apply to interactions with other people subconsciously apply to interactions with a face on a screen, or a computer interface, or a disembodied voice. People interacting with a computer which praises them for their performance on a quiz will attribute the same characteristics to the computer as they would to a person who praises - the computer will be seen as more competent and its feedback will be more valued. Social attribution can even occur with an interface as technologically unsophisticated as text on a screen. Why we act this way can be explained by our brain's evolutionary past - during the evolution of the brain all entities which looked or behaved like people were exactly that, there were no artificial representations. Representations in media are therefore interpreted naturally, that is, as they would appear in the world. So while our conscious minds are sophisticated enough to tell the difference and may deny interacting in a social manner with media, our old subconscious does not make the distinction.
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Format: Paperback
A previous review called this book "psuedo-scientific drivel."
In fact, this book is far from it. Well, as far from it as social science can get. In fact, is the most "scientific" of the user interface books I have read.
The main point I took away from the book is that people interact with objects, especially interactive and media devices, as if they were people. They demonstrate that when user interfaces are designed to be polite and interact in a positive social manner, the person has a much more enjoyable and profitable interaction.
Other books on the topic of user interface design are far less scientific, relying on generalizations and suppositions rather than constructing a study. Some use data from a usability evaluation, but these are often far from scientific.
The authors construct hypotheses, usually based on the results of studies of interaction between humans, and see if the results of the results hold true for human-machine interaction.
Usually, it does.
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