Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 748.
Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
Date: Fri, 16 Mar 2001 06:56:44 +0000
From: email@example.com (Francois Lachance)
Subject: user agents
Charles Ess has recently devoted much thought to the people part of the
human-computer nexus in his essay "We are the Borg: The Web as Agent of
Assimilation or Cultural Renaissance". I remind readers of the URL:
in Note # 15 speculates about the term "user" and I quote :
15. I would argue that "user" is itself a term already shaped broadly by a
culture of commodification and consumerism, and more specifically by a
"cyber-gnosticism" (my term) that radically disassociates "the user" as a
mind in cyberspace from his/her body, and thereby his/her connection with
the larger communities, traditions, and cultures that shape his/her
I tried to pursue this meditation and found myself coming back to
the term user :
> > The term "user" does have a distinct echo of "addict". "Person" is a
> > juridical entity. It too can have cultural bagage. The term "end user"
> > does have the advantage of a teleological perspective focussed on the
> > human being and in the best of developmental processes, it is the "end
> > user" who provides the feedback to shape the system. "User" seems a
> > more conducive to the reiterative mode of technological appropriation and
> > transculturation (as apposed to acculturation). "User" does have a
> > hands-on quality that "person" just doesn't seem to have. In either case,
> > both terms are probably products of that occidental proclivity to uniform
> > universalisation. Some users play games, others program, still others
> > generate indexes.
Technologies of transportation speak of drivers and passengers (rarely
hitchhikers). Architecture speaks of builders and, I believe, users.
"Technological agents" seems to be a term at home travelling through the
discourses of political and computer sciences. The "human component" of
the human-computer interface just doesn't quite sound apt for humanities
computing. Plus it is rather convoluted and inelegant. Is "user" the word?
Will "readers" in a broad sense do? Does "user" bring to mind a
reader-writer agent of a cultural renaissance open to the dangers of
-- Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large some threads tangle in tassles, others form the weft http://www.chass.utoronto.ca/~lachance
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