Human to machine or human to computer interaction?

We are all familiar with the concept of a “human to machine interaction”. Every time you operate a household appliance, such as a microwave oven or a washing machine, you are interacting with a machine.

But then there are other things we do that involve machines which we generally think of as “human to human” interactions. For example, talking on the telephone.

Why this is the case is not much of a mystery. The phone is, indeed, a kind of machine. Yet it successfully manages to avoid dominating our attention, thereby allowing us to focus on the other person in the conversation.

It seems to me that the nature of the machine is not what decides whether we are talking about “human to machine” or “human to human” interaction. Rather, the task itself is the deciding factor.

If I am serenading you on my guitar, while looking soulfully in your eyes, then my use of the guitar is part of a process of human to human interaction.

On the other hand, if I am sitting alone in my room, playing my guitar in order to work out a new song that I am writing, that is an example of human to machine interaction. When I am composing, as opposed to performing, my focus is on the instrument.

This generalizes to other technologies. If I am using this keyboard to write a novel, then I am in a compositional mode, which means that my use of the computer is an example of human to machine interaction. On the other hand, if you and I are having a real-time text chat, then this same computer becomes a tool for human to human interaction.

As with many things, there is no black and white here. “Pure composition” and “pure performance” are merely the opposite extremes of a continuous scale. Our use of tools will often fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Right now I am using this computer to type a daily blog post, an act which is some mixture of composition and performance. Which means I that am interacting both with this computer and with you.

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