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"My Computer Hates Me," Documentation of An Affective Investigation into HCI

"My Computer Hates Me," Documentation of An Affective Investigation into HCI

Overview

 

“My computer hates me” is a phrase we hear frequently, uttered by exasperated humans when the outcome of an interaction with technology does meet the expectations. Within this short sentence, we see a obvious anthropomorphization of the computer; a bestowal of the emotion “hate” onto a digital device. It is moments such as these that inspire this project, titled appropriately, “My Computer Hates Me.” The project aims to investigate human reactions to an anthropomorphized conception of a computer. While on one level “My Computer Hates Me” is meant as a parody, its ultimate goal is to make its user think critically about the ways in which they personify their digital devices and the consequences for their interactions with technology more broadly.

 

“My Computer Hates Me” takes the form of an interactive web-based experience. Users interact by clicking, pressing, or dragging on a pulsating, grey, blob-like shape, nicknamed “blobby” for easy of reference. Interacting with “blobby” results in certain responses, usually in line with our expectations of how an “angry” of “frustrated” computer would act if it had human-like emotions. “Blobby” functions as a stand in for the computer on which it is being used, the computer that “hates you.” The user's interactions are repetitive, mimicking the typically futile attempts to problem solve on a computer by retrying the same action, hoping for a different result. Though gamic in certain elements, it is difficult to explicitly classify as a computer game, due to the tension resulting from the fact that there is no apparent object, or even ability, to ever complete, the interactions asked of the user.

 

 

Motivations

 

While we are aware, at the most fundamental level, that our machines are neither sentient nor capable of human emotion, anthropomorphization of digital devices still has the tendency to foster an unproductive and even irresponsible relationship to technology. One of the most frequent uses of anthropomorphism is displayed perfectly by the phrase “my computer hates me,” due to its negativity. Statements that give computers human-like qualities are often used so that we can better understand (or pretend to understand) how they are working, or more specifically, why they are not working the way we expected. As a result, these types of anthropomorphisms paradoxically bring computers closer to our understanding of human, only to distance them from ourselves with the use of technophobic rhetoric.

 

This negativity furthers a general misunderstanding of how computers operate. Again, we can easily accept that digital devices are neither sentient nor autonomous, but giving them human emotions and responses still obscures and resists the logic behind both computer hardware and software – whether it is functioning as intended or not. Even on the most seemingly superfluous level, such as the commonplace anthropomorphizing aside, these rhetorics affect our subconscious understandings and predispositions towards technology on both a mental and physical level.

 

There is a wealth of potential surrounding human-computer interaction (HCI), which has become a buzzword in the computing, engineering, and design worlds. However, when we misunderstand how our interactions with computers, and our subsequent reactions, affect the outcome of a situation, new potential for interesting and responsive innovations in HCI may be lost. “My Computer Hates Me” is designed to help users start thinking critically about the ways in which they anthropomorphize their digital devices.

 

Making a connection between anthropomorphized technology and concepts of cyborgs and cyborg theory seems relatively simple. Cyborg theory tackles the complex forms and consequences of synthesis between humans and machines. From this brief description, it is possible to make the leap to anthropomorphic technology as a form of cyborgism in action, bringing humans and machines closer together. Yet, that leap would start with a stumble, a misrecognition of digital technology. It may be easy to think of the personified computer as part of the cyborg, but to be a true cyborg, any productive merging between human and machine requires that we understand the ways in which our technology functions as technology, not as human-like. To be/come cyborgs, we must first push aside the rhetorics of the anthropomorphized computer and learn how to interface with technology as it stands, in all of its digital logic.

 

 

Interaction Walk Through

 

 

 

After passing through the title page, users are presented with the undulating cloud that is “blobby,” intended as a representation of an anthropomorphized computer. The amorphous shape reflects not only the networked “cloud,” as we figure it today, but also the intangibility of computer software and incomprehensibility of digital hardware. The message “Click to Begin” is presented across the blob, which, though it reacts like a link or button, never leaves the screen.

 

 

 

Interactions with “blobby” are relatively simple. Clicking on the blob can provoke two different responses, the appearance of textual content and occasional graphical glitches. The text is formatted to evoke command lines and early computer interaction, except here the user not able to provide input. With repeated clicking, the text changes in tone from minor irritation to anger, until it becomes garbled and broken.

 

 

 

Clicking and dragging on “blobby” itself will detach one of the globular forms which make up the body of the cloud. The user can drag it around the screen, but on letting go, the circle will snap back to its original location. No matter how hard, or how many times, the user tries to pull apart the form, it returns to its initial shape.

 

 

Clicking and holding the mouse button for an extended period of time will cause the blob to expand and, at the same time, flicker through a random series of colors. The size of the blob is also tied to animation speed. As the blob grows larger, animation slows down dramatically. However, if left alone, it will slowly shrink back to its initial size, transition to its starting color, and animation will resume. At the same time, the text will delete itself from the screen, line by line, until no evidence is left of the encounter. This transition can be interrupted at any moment by the user resuming interaction. If uninterrupted, blobby will print one final line after returning to its initial state, expressing its current feelings.

 

   

 

Finally, running blobby for a normal period of time will begin to overheat a computer and turn on its fans. This is yet another, more physical, response which we often understand to mean that our computer “is unhappy” with whatever action we are taking. There is no endgame or objective to “My Computer Hates Me” and the user can continue interacting with “blobby” for as long as they wish. The experience is intended to last for several minutes, though playing with the interface for longer will likely reveal new responses.

 

 

Technical Specifications & Process

 

“My Computer Hates Me” was initially built using Processing, a programming language which was designed with the creative community in mind. Processing is essentially a wrapper that surrounds Java, making programming for visual projects much easier. In addition, the project also relied upon the library RiTa, a plugin for working specifically with text.

 

Processing was chosen because it was a familiar language. However, the only form of distribution for a project is to export as a Java applet and dissemination can often be difficult. Even when embedding a Java applet online, there is no guarantee that a user will be able to run it, as they must have Java installed and enabled on their browser. To make access slightly easier the project uses Processing.js, a JavaScript library which enables translation of Processing code into JavaScript. Since JavaScript is a web-native language and is much more likely to be available on modern web browsers, the project will, for the time being, be easier to interact with online.

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