It’s wonderful what you learn from quiz shows. Until watching Eggheads the other night, I didn’t know that ‘to signify any description of inanimate natural objects that ascribes to them human capabilities, sensations, and emotions‘ is what’s known as a pathetic fallacy.
The term was coined by the Victorian social thinker, art critic and Christian socialist, John Ruskin, in his 1856 work, Modern Painters. And I don’t think he meant it as a compliment.
It’s something we do a lot, even the most rational of us, particularly with mechanical and technological devices that become so important in our lives that we assign them personalities.
Think about it. How many people give their cars a name and talk to it as if it can be coaxed into heroic behaviour. “C’mon old girl, don’t let me down now. Just two miles to the service station. You can make it.”
In my case it’s my computer. I haven’t actually named it, other than ‘Home PC’, but I do suspect that it understands every word I type.
I mentioned the other day that the bearings in one of its fans sounded like they about to give up the ghost and I was wondering whether it was time for a replacement. Every time I tried researching what model this might be, the damn thing kept crashing.
So I asked it whether it had a logic board problem as well since this wasn’t very logical behaviour. Constant crashing would make me more likely to replace it than not and had it really thought it through?
And you what? That horrible whining noise has stopped, so has the crashing and an uneasy truce exists between us. And I have a new definition for pathetic fallacy:
Thinking you understand technology when really you don’t.