The Consumer and the Computer
I have been trying to understand how people went from the Television world into the Computer world. I not well-qualified to do this, because I stopped watching TV a long time ago (it was more than I could cope with). When I was working, I worked in the Computer world, and now I am retired, I blog on my computer every day.
I have compensated for my lack of TV-watching experience by reading McLuhan and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman says a lot about the Television Commercial – the great gift of Television to Mankind. On page 128 he amplifies on this:
What an advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product, but what is wrong about the buyer. And so, the balance of business expenditures shifts from product research to market research.
The Television Commercial has oriented business away from making products of value and toward making consumers feel valuable, which means the business of business now becomes pseudo-therapy. The consumer is a patient assured by psycho-dramas.
This sounds right to me – I have never heard it put better.
Now I am asking myself “How does the Computer fit into this?” At the unconscious level, everyone else was asking themselves the same thing. People expected the Computer to carry on the work of the Television. Which it could not, because it was not the same thing at all.
What happened? People still wanted to be entertained (the greatest need in their lives). So the computer user interface was quickly improved to do just that – in one of the greatest design efforts of all time – and one whose social impact has never been properly appreciated.
People got used to the new Graphical User Interface (GUI) which was more interesting than Television – because the communication there was two-way – the Computer could do what the user wanted it to do!
The user became all-powerful (at least in that little corner of his world)! No therapy was required, because this had always been Mankind’s ardent wish – to be a demigod!
And with the new hand-held devices he was just that. He did not have do anything, they would do everything for him! And he could be a perfect moron.
Now I have written this, I am not sure what to do with it. Its basic insight is astonishing (if I do say so myself). Perhaps others will find it useful.