Anthropomorphizing technology – suggesting human characteristics for non-human technological products – is a common pastime. We attribute motives to our gadgets, particularly malicious intent when our gadgets repeatedly fail at the most inauspicious times. We sometimes slip in a personal pronoun for a device. Our technology is often so advanced and complex that the ordinary user has very little clue about its inner workings. Arthur C. Clarke’s third “law” reflects this idea: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Even so, I doubt that anyone actually believes that the technology is truly sentient. Rather, we joke about its seemingly human behavior, knowing full well that the computer, automobile, and space shuttle are all simply objects with no ability to act on their own, though they are sufficiently complex that we cannot always predict their behavior. There may be an added benefit to this humorous approach to our technology. Humor about technology can be a comfort because it recognizes that we share a common experience – who hasn’t lost something important when a computer crashed on them?
I would like to see technology help us share experiences and improve human relationships more often, but not just centered on technological failures. This would honor the design norm of integrity. This is the principle that a technology design ought to harmonize function and form, ought to integrate all the parts into an aesthetic whole, and ought to promote positive human relationships. Where technology brings people together, encourages peaceful interaction, brings out the best of what makes us human, then it observes the principle of integrity. One example would be collaborative document technologies that allow multiple users to edit a document simultaneously (though I think these product are still in their infancy, and I expect many improvements yet).
To “technopomorphize”, if that were actually a word, would refer to the use of technical analogies to understand human concepts and relationships. Our daily language is full of them: “switching gears”, “like clockwork”, “grease the skids”, “turn the crank”, “pull the plug”. “really pushed his buttons”, “need to wind down”. We use these as symbols to explain our own and others behavior. When understood as a simplification, as an abstraction in order to communicate succinctly, these analogies can be helpful. They reflect our God-given and God-reflecting character as tool makers and tool users. When mistaken to be the behavior itself rather than a symbol or analogy, then I think we do ourselves and our fellow humans an injustice. Trying to understand the human brain by comparing it to a computer can be a helpful approach; implying that the human brain is simply a biological computer, no more, leaves out the nuance and beauty, the mystery and complexity and soul of the human creature. Yes, you can push my buttons, but my output is not deterministically dependent on those inputs.