Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do

Chapter 2: The Functional Triad Computers in Persuasive Roles


Based on my experience in teaching and speaking about captology, I ve learned that the quickest way to help people grasp the subject is to introduce what I call the functional triad. This is a conceptual framework that illustrates the different roles that computing technology can play.

The functional triad is a framework that illustrates the three roles computing technology can play: tool, media, and social actor.

The functional triad overarches the various perspectives and theories on persuasion that have been developed since the days of Aristotle (see sidebar on page 24), while highlighting the potential of computing products to persuade and motivate. Having this framework makes it easier to design or study computers as persuasive technologies.

This brief chapter will provide an overview of the three key elements in the functional triad. The next three chapters will examine each element in more detail.

The Functional Triad: Roles Computers Play

The functional triad is a framework for thinking about the roles that computing products play, from the perspective of the user. In its simplest form, the functional triad shows that interactive technologies can operate in three basic ways: as tools, as media, and as social actors (Figure 2.1). These three functions capture how people use or respond to virtually any computing product, from simple products like a portable electronic pedometer to sophisticated products such as TurboTax for the Web. Most computing products are a mix of these three functions, blending tool with social actor, or medium with tool, and so...


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