In 1983 a military computer by the name of JOSHUA asked a young Matthew Broderick, “Would you like to play a game?” In the film War Games a computer accessed through a text console in the main character’s bedroom became far more than a piece of technology; it was a character. Although the level of sophistication and semi sentience isn’t possible even today, this film and others of its day marked the beginning of the conceptualization of computers as social entities.
Computers by their nature are interactive. For a computer to perform any task, a user must provide it with information, request a process, and respond to the output. “Basically, if something interacts with us, we interpret that interaction; the more responsive it is to us through its body actions, its language, its taking of turns, and its general responsiveness, the more we treat it like a social actor.” (Norman, 137). Furthermore, unlike any other technologies, computer processors are uniquely anthropomorphic in their apparent ability to think.
User experience goals become uniquely critical in this context. Novice users can easily be discouraged when the conceptual model does not agree with the user model. “We get angry because that’s how our mind works. As far as we are concerned, we have done everything right, so the inappropriate behaviour is therefore the fault of the computer” (Norman, 139). With each negative experience, the novice user begins to distrust the technology. They respond as one would respond to a personal conflict. “Most of our rich, deepest emotions are ones where we have attributed a cause to an occurrence. These emotions originate from reflection” (Norman, 139).
Fortunately, this reflective social response can work in our favour. Just as a negative user experience invoke responses of anger and frustration, positive experiences can evoke emotions such as friendship and nostalgia. In some cases these experiences can even become part of the vernacular as the proper nouns associated with the technologies start appearing as verbs.
When one considers the ten user experience goals outlined by Rogers, Sharp, and Preece (see concept map below), is it any wonder that the most successful web tools available are those that facilitate social interaction? As Norman points out, “even if exact prediction of successful products is not possible, we can be certain of one category that almost always guarantees success: social interaction”(Norman, 148). As social interaction begins to move onto the electronic stage, even novice users are beginning to participate. The fear and anger felt by those who traditionally have had negative experiences with technology is overshadowed by the social pressure of being part of a group.