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Customer Review

on February 28, 1997
Anyone working in "new media" (writers, political consultants, market research, advertising, software designers, tv and movie makers, webmasters, cinematographers, etc.), not aware of how our "old," hunter-gatherer brains interpret the modern world, isn't working with a full tool box.

Authors Reeves and Nass show, through their experiments, that people (including programmers and many others intimately familiar with how media works) cannot disengage hard-wired caveman brains when working with software, playing a game, watching an ad, or seeing a movie. If we could, then why did that horror movie make our hearts race? And why did it make us jumpy afterwards?

So how do we treat computers like people? Here's one example from the book. In human interaction, one is likely to politely agree (a/k/a fib a little) with an acquaintance who says, "Isn't this a great sweater?" One also tends to be more honest discussing the sweater with a third party, "That sweater isn't my favorite color."

If people do treat computers like humans, then (substituting computers for people in the example), a person would agree with Computer A (out of politeness!), but tell Computer B the truth. And that's what happened in the authors' test lab.

People were quizzed by Computer A (programmed to perform poorly), "Aren't I doing a great job?" -- and they gave Computer A high marks. Then, in another room, Computer B asked about Computer A's performance... and people rated Computer A more honestly (and consistantly lower than they rated Computer A "to its face.") The pattern of response to the computers matched the way people interact with each other.

In example after example, covering many, many areas of human behavior (from politeness to flight-or-flight and even to how little it takes for us to perceive something as male or female and how that colors our thoughts), Reeves and Nash show us how our old brains are responding to our high-tech world .

The ideas in this book should provoke discussion, controversy, and more study. But, those in media need to adjust to the reality that if you want to talk to the 21st century human -- you better learn, first, how to appeal to the caveman.
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