RE: Anthropomorphism is bad because...

Subject: RE: Anthropomorphism is bad because...
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Tue, 22 Jun 2010 05:45:47 -0700 (PDT)

I know it's not unusual to talk about a system "learning" something about how it's used. Hearing aids, for example, "learn" about the sound landscapes in which the person switches from general hearing to directional hearing, and try to "anticipate" the person's choice. Systems are acquiring agency, and whether it's fictional embellishment or not, the vernacular increasingly ascribes agency to them.

Vernacular brings up some reasoning behind anthropomorphism for systems. It makes active voice easier. As far as I can tell, active voice (generally agreed to be good, right?) requires an actor. YOU do x, y, and z. THE SYSTEM displays the foo dialog box. One big benefit is that you provide the reader with a full chain of events... you remove ambiguity. A great example of passive voice comes from a critique of Texas-approved history texts. The start of the Viet Nam war is described thus... "...and then a war happened." No wonder American kids are bored by history.

Janice would say, "Ok, but you don't need to grant a system human qualities." True, but it's easier, and ultimately less demanding on the reader. You could also say, "Ending on a preposition is something up with which I will not put." (I know, the never-end-with-preposition rule is a fiction, but I can't resist the example.) So you *can* say "The system enters a wait state until you provide the foo." Or you can say "The system waits for a foo." You *can* say, "The system assembles the structures necessary to manage a foo", or you can say "The system expects a foo." "Want" is harder to argue for. "The system performs better if you provide a foo" vs "The system wants a foo." I would not use "want" in this case, because it seems misleading to me. You can argue that the other anthropormorphic examples are equally misleading. As a matter of style, I just don't feel that way about them.

I guess that's one reason why we have editors... to keep style in order.



Gain access to everything you need to create and publish information
through multiple channels. Your choice of authoring (and import)
formats with virtually any output. Try Doc-To-Help free for 30-days.

You are currently subscribed to TECHWR-L as archive -at- web -dot- techwr-l -dot- com -dot-

To unsubscribe send a blank email to
techwr-l-unsubscribe -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
or visit

To subscribe, send a blank email to techwr-l-join -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com

Send administrative questions to admin -at- techwr-l -dot- com -dot- Visit for more resources and info.

Please move off-topic discussions to the Chat list, at:


Previous by Author: Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...
Next by Author: Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...
Previous by Thread: RE: Anthropomorphism is bad because...
Next by Thread: Re: Anthropomorphism is bad because...

What this post helpful? Share it with friends and colleagues:

Sponsored Ads