Perceived nondeterminism

Trailhead: Alan Cooper. "The Difference Between". (2021-05-19).

The non-determinism that we don’t consciously perceive is subtle. If your computer simply did random things in response to your pressing keys on the keyboard, you’d just throw it away as a bad business. But it doesn’t escape your mind that when you are running Snapchat, the places that you touch the screen, and the reactions that result, are very different from the reactions you get from Instagram even when you touch the screen in the exact same place. Your mind registers this as non-deterministic. The part of your mind that is engaged when you use objects with digital behavior is different from the part of your mind that is engaged when you don’t. I believe that the human brain uses the same cognitive tools for perceiving digital behavior as it uses for perceiving the behavior of other humans. Stanford researchers Nass and Reeves refer to this as “the media equation.”

I've got an idea for mission control software on my brain. This article on interaction design came up and it raised a thought that I wouldn't have considered on my own: The way you interact with a Real Thing and the way you act with a Digital Thing is different.

Obviously, of course. The difference is not what I would have expected: The way your brain handles an interaction with a digital thing is as if it was a nondeterministic (essentially random) object, and an interaction with a physical thing is as if with a deterministic (essentially predictable) object.

I suppose that would account for the frustration of dealing with screen interactions, especially unusual or clever ones that require uncovering some hidden function or finding something in a larger menu. It seems like you might need to be careful about designing screen interactions that behave in some expected way.

The reference to the "media equation" is also interesting—the idea that people tend to treat computers as other people. I'm not sure how to use that idea in practice, but it seems like a well designed set of interactions could help people get in a mindset to go where they want to go, or learn what they want to learn, or go to where you want them to go.

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