Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Cheshire Mac

Computers are kind of like cats: they think they are smarter than you are.

Both the computer and the cat are wrong. They are not smarter than you are -- they are merely better at getting what they want than you are.

Consider the cat. A cat will blithely ignore you for most of your existence and then decide that it would like its ears scratched please and would you be quick about it. So, unlike a person who would like some affection, a cat does not make subtle conversation, laden with hopeful overtones and oblique hints too vague to be picked up by anybody other than Kreskin. No, a cat simply pours itself into you lap -- regardless of what you are doing -- and demands to be petted.

Now consider the computer. You are minding your own business, happily working away at a machine you once had to be convinced wouldn’t electrocute you. Then, you quite innocently do something that offends its delicate sensibilities. Now suppose you had similarly offended a person. A human would perhaps withdraw quietly, maybe with a little pouting for good measure, and save up the minor grievance (which would subsequently be heaped upon by other minor grievances) to be brought out and thrown into the offender’s face at a later date. However, a computer demands instant retribution. It beeps (or boings or hisses) at you insistently until you apologize for your transgressions by immediately fixing whatever was wrong. Silence is your only reward for jumping to its beck and call.

You see, in both instances, we the people like to think of ourselves as the master -- and in both instances, we are sorely mistaken.

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