Computer Cartoons by Ronald E. Anderson and Marilyn Freimuth University of Minnesota People are generally not comfortable with computers. The rapid proliferation of computers has left many suffering mild anxiety from the social adjustments required in the wake of such "future shocks.” Laughter has been known to cushion all types of shock and psychiatrists have even gone so far as to prescribe humor for people's distresses. For this reason, humor deserves a closer look in the context of the computer movement. Humor communicates far more than happy emotions because it depends upon a collection of ideas which are not completely compatible. A funny cartoon or a good joke can provide a great deal of valid commentary about computers by calling attention to important facets of the real world, especially the beliefs and values that people hold. Consequently humor often expresses the complexities and subtleties of cultural thought and sentiment. ln the pursuit of such insight into the public's computer mood, we systematically began to collect computer humor.‘ Cartoons, especially single frame drawings, are the primary form of humor on the subject of computers. Rarely can you find a computer mentioned in a joke book or a public restroom. Evidently this is due to the distance most people feel removing them from the computer and perhaps because the computer is a natural victim of caricature. Distortion of physical features constitutes the essence of caricature, e.g., Mr. Nixon is all cheek and nose whereas computers become forbidding monsters or smiling faces. \ Ffa .,..~»»"‘'lf'i'}' '' j_w.cs»~ i §‘é '*'' ul R \ &r " ~ ri if limi 104 Creativity is an extremely important ingredient of both humor writing and humor enjoyment. Laughter depends upon the surprise revelation of a new, unexpected link between disjoint things or thoughts. Perceiving a fresh connection or an unexpected irony requires a creative leap from one established thought to another. Surprise yields mild tension; laughter is the human mode for relieving that tension. Without creative perception of the unexpected character of humorous incongruities, a human being experiences neither surprise nor pleasure. It is our conviction that mcartoons reveal people's attitudes toward computers more effectively than many other methods of assessing attitudes and feelings. In this spirit we compiled a library of cartoons from such diverse sources as magazines, newspapers, and books although most of the cartoons were taken from The New Yorker, Saturday Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Punch,Datamation, and Educational Technology. For these magazines we collected all the computer cartoons in five year intervals beginning in 1952 and ending in 1972, which provides a broad sampling of public mood across the early years of computer history. Our data base now contains nearly 300 cartoons, and these have been systematically subjected to content analysis to identify the dominant theme in each cartoon. This is not an easy task because some some possess multiple themes, some of which are overlapping and very subtle. Six major themes occur in the computer cartoons: 1. humanized computer 2. computerized human 3. computerization penetrating daily life 4. computer as beneficial tool 5. tool evolves into threatening master 6. the dependent computer 7. computer people and insider jokes Each cartoon was placed into one of the above categories, and it is insightful to examine the cartoons in each category separately to gain a perspective on the ideas and orientations basic to each theme. As indicators of public attitudes the cartoons are considerably more elaborate and rich than opinion research studies. Nonetheless, the cartoon portrait is consistent with the opinion studies. In particular both types of investigations demonstrate the combination of both positive and negative feelings toward computers. Not only is there divergence of attitude orientation but some if not most people feel ambivalent toward computer 1 Humor being one of the most creative of human activities should challenge the more creative computer artists, but as yet no compuierist has created a program lo generate jokes or gags. The senior author would be delighted to hear from someone who has proven our claim incorrect. Please address any responses to Ron Anderson, 2122 Riverside, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55404.