This book has been one of the most interesting ones that I read during my PhD research, and I recommend it to anyone working with computers, especially in web. It’s called “The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places (CSLI Lecture Notes)” by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass (Stanford University).
They look at how people interact with computers and how computers interact with computers and other media. Their equation is media = real life. There are a number of interesting experiments that are described and provided me with a good basis for other experiments. More importantly it helped me think in a different way and open the doors of HCI to me. It is easy to read and doesn’t have any big scary equations in. In fact it’s easy going travelling reading if you have to sit on a train or a plane for a long time. I would say that it isn’t always rigorously scientific in so far as the experiments go, but who cares it’s still interesting. It was written in 1996, so some things have changed or moved on but it’s nice to be able to fill those gaps whilst reading. Like I said it opens you up to new things. This book is still on University reading lists and there’s a good reason for that. It’s brilliant.
“Authors Reeves and Nass present the results of numerous psychological studies that led them to the conclusion that people treat computers, television and new media as real people and places. Their studies show that people are polite to computers; that they treat computers with female voices differently than male-voiced computers; that large faces on a screen can invade a person’s body space; and that motion on a screen affects physical responses in the same way that real-life motion does. One of their startling conclusions is that the human brain has not evolved quickly enough to assimilate twentieth-century technology. The authors detail how this knowledge can help us better design and evaluate media technologies, including computer and Internet software, television entertainment, news, and advertising, and multimedia.” (CSLI publications)
Paul Dourish from Apple research labs reviewed the book and is not a fan, so you can read his side of the story to balance it all out I guess. I don’t disagree with him, but I think the book still has great value. It allowed me to expand on some of the ideas presented perhaps in more a “Stanford than Waldenbooks” way as he suggests.
The main thing to take away from the book is that perception is a lot more important than reality when trying to evaluate the effectiveness of media.