Nowadays, people not only utilize computers, but they depend on them. This dependence fosters a symbiotic relationship between computers and their users. Human-computer symbiosis, or man-computer symbiosis as J.C.R. Licklider called it, reflects humans’ reliance on computers and has both positive and negative effects on humans, but humans benefit more from computers than computers benefit from humans.
Computers cannot function efficiently without humans, and humans cannot function efficiently without computers. Computers are created by humans. They also must be updated and maintained to prevent viruses and malware, and to make sure that the computer performs at the highest possible speed and efficiency. Similarly, humans rely on computers for ease, speed, and efficiency. Legacy forms of finding information, such as books, are slower and less efficient than computers. Furthermore, some people rely on computers to live and communicate.
Ventilators exemplify human-computer symbiosis. Ventilators breathe for humans with certain medical conditions, sustaining their lives. At the same time, these machines require human aid to be able to work: the individual’s mouth must stay closed to keep the air in the lungs, and humans create the machines that make the ventilators and power the electricity. Another example is the TTY compatibility of cell phones. This function allows people with hearing disabilities to communicate with others. For situations in which phone conversations are required, people with hearing or speaking disabilities converse through text instead of having an aid communicate for them.
Pros and Cons
Human-computer symbiosis has both positive and negative effects. On one hand, computers provide life support for medical patients. Computers also make research and everyday tasks easier. Additionally, they allow people to communicate better, especially for those with disabilities. New media thrives because of human-computer symbiosis. Human reliance on new media creates high demand for many kinds of computers. This high demand translates into high profits and the development of better, smarter, and faster technology. More improvements bring even more demand and more human-computer reliance. Adversely, this symbiosis decreases face-to-face interaction. People chat online rather than face-to-face, which decreases the quality of the relationship, especially when physical touch is required by participants. Also, frequent use of computers leads to medical conditions such as eyestrain and repetitive stress injuries.
In biology, symbiosis implies that two organisms benefit from each other. People seem to benefit more from computers than computers benefit from humans. Thus, the human-computer relationship better reflects commensalism: humans benefit from computer-use, but computers neither benefit nor suffer.