'The Man Who Lied to His Laptop' - And Yelled at His LMS

June 9, 2011

The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships by Clifford Nass and Corina Yen

One of the things you will learn from The Man Who Lied to His Laptop is that being critical will make you sound smarter. Write a critical book review, and the review will be taken more seriously. This helped me understand why I've been feeling less than adequate in liking (and recommending) so many of the books I read (including this one). Reviewers who are not critical are viewed as less competent, hence we get more critical book reviews.

I was very happy to learn that the prolific Dr. Nass is a sociologist (Princeton 1986). I suffered moments of professional jealousy to learn that Nass is one of those academics who combine insane publishing productivity (3 books and over 125 research papers), with a busy and lucrative consulting career on human / computer interfaces with companies ranging from Microsoft to Toyota to BMW to Dell. Professional success in academia is not not distributed normally (would a Pareto distribution describe accurately describe the academic productivity?).

The Man Who Lied to His Laptop takes as its content many of the experiments and consulting gigs that Nass has run. Nass' central insight, the one he has built his career around, is that people treat computers like people. Substitute a computer for a person, have a real person interact with the computer, and learn lessons about the ways in which people behave and make decisions.

One experiment from the book that sticks in my mind was an investigation of "expertise." Nass took a two TV sets, labelled one of them with a sign "News Specialist." People who watched newscasts on the "News Specialist" TV found those newscasts to be more convincing, better reported, and of higher quality than people who watched the same newscasts on the "generalist" TVs. It's good to be labelled a specialist or an expert in a subject.

This is a good book to read if you are in educational technology. The book has helped me understand how students and professors will view the learning technologies that we offer for teaching and learning, and ways in which we can communicate about these technologies when something goes wrong (and it always does). Recommended if you work at the intersection of technology and people.

What are you reading?


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