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It’s been said so many times that it’s by now become a staid cliché: humans are social animals. We are adapted to social interaction, and to a large extend depend on our ability to interact and cooperate with others. Considering how important our social interactions are for our survival, it is surprising how little room it’s allocated in the regular school curriculum to learning more about what science has to teach us on this topic. Social Psychology, the branch of Psychology that deals with this subject, is in my opinion the most important of all social sciences, and perhaps the most practically relevant branch of science overall when it comes to usefulness for our daily lives. “The Man Who Lied to His Computer” is an excellent primer of that field, and overall a surprisingly useful and relevant popular science book.
The title of this book seems to evoke Oliver Sacks’ writings, and “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat” in particular. Sacks, a well-known British neurologist and writer, has dedicated his life to exploring the hidden secrets of the way that our minds work by examining peculiar pathologies of the brain. Nass and Yen, on the other hand, have written a book based on the series of experiments performed at the Nass’ Stanford laboratory. These experiments tried to elucidate the way we interact with each other by looking at our interactions with computers. After spending many years on improving computer interfaces and the humanizing our interaction with computers, Nass had stumbled onto a brilliant idea of reversing the direction of his research, and started looking into improving the ways that we interact with each other based on the ways that we treat computers. It turns out that we really do anthropomorphize computers, and it is legitimate to extrapolate from the human-computer interactions to the interhuman ones.
The findings that this book focuses on are truly fascinating. I don’t want to reveal too much, but the one that I liked the most has to do with the optimal way of giving evaluations. As an educator I have always dreaded the most this part of my job, and unfortunately there is no silver bullet that will make this any easier. However, there are ways of presenting the information to your employees or students in a way that will really make your criticism feel and be more constructive.
The book is very well written. No one will ever match the beautifully flowing literary prose of Oliver Sacks, but Nass and Yen manage to write a very intriguing and informative little book. I was literally unable to put it down. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in these topics, as well as to anyone who wants to improve their interpersonal skills.
 

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