Re: Anthropomorphic Phrases

Subject: Re: Anthropomorphic Phrases
From: RJACOBSE -at- GPS -dot- COM
Date: Tue, 5 Aug 1997 10:15:56 -0500

Recently I was explaining how to use wild card characters when conducting
a search in a database when I wrote "When you enter a word or phrase in
one of the fields, the system will search for exact matches." What is
wrong with this phrase. It sort of gives the system a personality then,
but what makes that a bad thing? Maybe the users (who are primarily
attorneys and paralegals) would be more productive if they felt that the
computer was more... well .... human like (anthropomorphic).

I don't think the phrase you quoted here is anthropomorphic. You are not
attributing "human form or character" (from the definition of
"anthropomorphism") to the computer; it does indeed perform the search as
you described. You would be anthropomorphising (there's a mouthful) if you
had said the system would "try it's hardest to find an exact match." (A
computer either does something, or it doesn't do it, without any degrees of

At my company, the techwriting group conducted a jihad to rid our product
of error messages that began with "Sorry,..." on the grounds that the
system was incapable of being sorry about anything. We felt this was a
subtle form of anthropomorphism. On the other hand, we have no qualms about
telling users that the system is going to do something, when that something
is what the system truly does.

Roy Jacobsen
rjacobse -at- gps -dot- com

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