Re: The Emotional Computer

Mark Grant (
Mon, 31 Mar 1997 14:17:50 +0000

On Sun, 30 Mar 1997 wrote:

> It seems to me that people most adept at computers have generally only the
> most superficial awareness of their (and others') emotions.

I think this is largely a myth, though a myth with some foundation in
truth. It's certainly a widespread myth; I'm amazed and amused by the
difference in people's reactions when I meet them and tell them I'm a
computer programmer and when I tell them I'm a film-maker (since I'm
programming to fund my film-making). Because the stereotypes are so
different they treat me very differently even though I'm exactly the same
person; I think this says more about the general level of communication
between members of the human race than computer people. Most people care
far more about personas than the personality behind them.

I think that a large part of the problem is that computer people are doing
things which 'normal' people simply cannot understand because they lack
the technical knowledge, and hence those people cannot understand the
computer people either. I can't, for example, explain to my artistic
friends why I object to Windows on aesthetic grounds (at the emotional
level the internals of the code are just horrid), while I can readily
understand why they prefer one book or painting over another. If everyone
programmed computers and only a few people painted we'd probably see a
similar stereotype in the other direction. Hmm, now there's an idea for a

As for passion, many of the people I know in the industry are so
passionate about whatever project they're working on that I avoid them for
the same reason I'd avoid an overly passionate artist; there's nothing in
their life except their work so they can't talk about anything else.

Perhaps another issue is jealousy. Since programmers are so powerful in
modern society and their world is so hard for outsiders to understand, the
outsiders want a reason to feel superior. Hence, "well, computer people
may be creating all this technology around us, but I know all about
emotions and they don't so I'm superior". Bullshit, but probably
reassuring bullshit for some.

I admit I do have a problem with people who do stupid things for no
rational reason and then complain about it and explain that 'their
emotions made them do it'; my goal is to maximise my potential for life,
and playing silly games like that isn't going to help. I can get very
emotional, but my emotions aid my goals rather than detract from them. The
difference seems to be that I've integrated my emotions into the rest of
my personality so that emotions are something that I have, whereas many
people feel that emotions are something external which happen to them. I
can understand why they do the things they do, based on the emotions they
have, but I still think it's very stupid. I would feel the same way
whether or not I was a programmer.

Of course another issue is that computer programmers are well-paid
professionals and hence the people who take the job are more likely to be
rational and career-minded than the sort who'll chuck in a job and follow
some random person to Peru in the name of love. Most of the lawyers and
other professionals I've met seem to fit the 'emotionless' stereotype just
as well as most of the programmers. This is probably the 'foundation' I
was talking about above; professionals who have to work in teams and meet
deadlines must be able to switch off their emotions when neccesary in
order to get the job done. This doesn't mean that they're emotionless the
rest of the time.


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