The Functional Triad
The "functional triad" is a concept the author developed for describing the roles that computing technology can play: tool, media, and actor. This chapter provides a brief overview, with following chapters exploring each of those roles in greater detail.
(EN: The author's concept user the term "social actor," but I don't see the necessity of the qualifier)
In the role of tool, the computer is a device that people use to make certain tasks more efficient. Originally, computers were valued for their calculation capabilities, to quickly process numerical data through functions to arrive at a result, eliminating the need for the person to worth through the tedious math. They were later used for other tasks, such as text manipulation and data reference, and their use was expanded to a myriad of functions, each of which represents a task made more efficient.
In the role of medium, the computer enables people to store information with the intention of making it available to others (or retrieving it themselves). This involves "symbolic" communication (the translation of ideas into text and graphics) as well as "sensory" communication (the recording of audiovisual events,, which is less symbolic and more objective)
In the role of actor, the computer collects input and provides responses to the user, in accordance with its programming and design. This role has the greatest fascination for users and researchers alike. The author notes that people interact with a computer "much like they would respond to another human being." Even computer-savvy subjects, who are well aware that it is a mere device without human logic or emotion, tend to anthropomorphize the device to some degree.
Applying the Functional Triad
Each "corner" of the triad has its own set of persuasion techniques, which will be explored in the next three chapters, but a quick overview is provided:
- As a tool, computers make a task easier to perform if the user proceeds in a way the computer was designed to accommodate. The design of the tool encourages a pattern of behavior, and rewards compliance with success at the task with minimal effort.
- As a medium, particularly a sensory one, the computer can provide a "compelling experience" through simulations that enable individuals to explore cause-and-effect relationships and modeling behavior.
- As actor, computers accept input and provide feedback that encourages the user in what the software is programmed to recognize as the "right" direction.
For those whose interest is in research and design of persuasive technology, toward the end of using computers to more effectively influence the attitude and behavior of users, the triad helps to identify elements available in each of the three contexts to enable the practitioner to focus on a specific tool-set. However, even when a device is intended to function in one of these contexts, it often has elements that draw from the other two as well.