Of course computers are not rude, you need to have some intent or emotion to be rude. You could argue that the people who write programs are rude, but that is not really the case… in fact they are often polite to the extreme. Why is the computer asking me to please click the next button? And I’m not just talking about the computer you sit in front of – when you talk to an IVR of course you are talking to a computer. Why am I told that my conference call will start momentarily when in fact the computer has no way of knowing if and when the organizer will actually open the bridge? Well its just the polite way to let people know they should keep waiting.
But… is regularly talking to a computer that is a surrogate for hitherto human interactions making it OK to be rude back? Since the first non-geek sat in front of a computer we’ve been swearing at computers… but that was similar to swearing at a frozen bolt when changing a tire. You know you are swearing at an inanimate object.
So what is the impact of interacting with increasingly “human like” devices for which we feel no obligation to be polite? I feel a little silly when I realize I am being polite to an emotionless machine and don’t hold back in letting SIRI know when she just can’t get the number right! Like the claim that video games numb us to the consequences of violence and driving like a madman, is our culture slowly being trained to set aside long-established the norms and etiquettes in how we interact with one another?
I spent several years studying the human interface while developing tools that allowed the designer to script out a “man-machine” dialog, typically rendered using speech interfaces (using standards such as voicexml if you are in to that kind of thing). Listen to recorded interactions with these systems and not only do you appreciate why people tend to hate them (at least, the badly designed ones) but also realize that people are indeed very prone to swear at the system even though it is standing in for a human – yeah, its not just me!
I would love to see a study of how we use similar services provided by “real” humans over time to see if people are becoming more prone to be rude to humans since its clearly acceptable to be rude to their surrogates. This would indeed be an unfortunate unintended consequence of this technology.
In an loosely related topic and purely because it will make you laugh out loud, if you haven’t seen this clip on conference calls that went viral a few months back you really need to watch it.