Saturday, January 31, 2009

Computers Killing Social Complexity?

I watched a dating show where a team of coaches helped a young computer geek improve his chances. In his test date he was attentive and he had a charming sense of humor. His face and his voice though, was flat. He did not (appropriately) smile or frown. Here is an apparently intelligent man who was failing to display basic social cues. Was it because in his daily life he was mostly using a third party, the computer, to interact with others? The team coached him to be more engaging when meeting people in the flesh.

I wonder also what effect that computer role playing games (RPG's) might have on young people who might be missing social cues in the real world. After all, computers can only simulate human interaction. Their responses are programmed and therefore predictable. A good gamer will quickly work out what responses to feed a computer generated personality to get him what he wants. I've noticed a disturbing trend with my son, a dedicated gamer, to say whatever he needs to in order to progress as quickly as possible. In a gaming world, commitments don't matter. Once you pass a level, whether you lied to a computer avatar or not won't matter.

What if the flat world of computer gaming is preventing vulnerable personalities from developing a rich repertoire of facial recognition and expression? Might they be missing important social cues? Even worse, what if integrity to the computer generation doesn't matter, as long as the "right thing" is said?