“What is intent?”
I repeated the question, “What is ‘intent’ “?
A moment of silence went by. He didn’t understand my question. I’m not sure I quite understood it, either.
I rephrased, “Well, when you say you do something ‘intentionally,’ what does that mean?”
I realized how ridiculous I must’ve sounded. My grasp of English isn’t perfect, but I certainly understood the words “intent” and “intentionally.” Or didn’t I?
I was hoping for a quick answer, just a simple definition, an affirmation that my knowledge was accurate. The absence of reply meant that I would have to provide more information in order to get a response. Context was everything.
“I was reading this website … wait, let me e-mail it to you … it had example scenarios for you to read, then you had to answer some questions at the end. I didn’t get it. I mean, I understood it, but I just didn’t arrive at the same conclusions other people did. It’s weird.”
I paused for a moment to listen to the sound of him checking his e-mail, then continued, “The article mentions the different answers that people come up with. I came up with something completely different, something not mentioned.”
I gave my boyfriend two minutes to read the examples and questions that I had copied and pasted into an e-mail. I left off the conclusions from the article to allow him the opportunity to arrive at an answer unbiased from what he was “supposed to” think.
The e-mail read:
The Free-Cup Case
Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that if he bought a Mega-Sized Smoothie he would get it in a special commemorative cup. Joe replied, ‘I don’t care about a commemorative cup, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.’ Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie in a commemorative cup. Did Joe intentionally obtain the commemorative cup?
The Extra-Dollar Case
Joe was feeling quite dehydrated, so he stopped by the local smoothie shop to buy the largest sized drink available. Before ordering, the cashier told him that the Mega-Sized Smoothies were now one dollar more than they used to be. Joe replied, ‘I don’t care if I have to pay one dollar more, I just want the biggest smoothie you have.’ Sure enough, Joe received the Mega-Sized Smoothie and paid one dollar more for it. Did Joe intentionally pay one dollar more?
Reading these examples makes my initial question, “What is intent?”, sound a lot more valid. I probably should have just e-mailed him the exmaples to begin with to save myself the embarrassment of asking inane-sounding questions.
The questions were from a Psychology Today blog called “Experiments in Philosophy.” The article in question is called “Intentional Action and Asperger Syndrome,” written by Dr. Edouard Machery. The point of the article and the exercises above were to illustrate differences in how people with Asperger’s (a mild form of autism) interpret intent compared to most other people.
After reading the examples, most people in Dr. Machery’s study would claim that spending an extra dollar for a drink was intentional, though obtaining the commemorative cup was not. A person with Asperger’s would claim that both were unintentional. (Please do not confuse these examples above with a diagnostic test for Asperger’s; answering “no” to both does not mean you have Asperger’s. Read the comments on the article if you want to learn more.)
It took my boyfriend about two minutes to carefully read through the examples and arrive at the same conclusion that most others arrived at: the dollar was intentional, the cup was not. My interpretation was very different from what he arrived at, and no, I did not believe both to be unintentional.
I thought both were intentional. The article didn’t mention anything about that.
A few short minutes later, I found myself in a heated debate with him over our interpretation of “intent” and about our respective answers to the aforementioned questions. I was struggling to defend my reasoning.
“Look at it this way,” I started to explain, groping for the right analogy. “You walk up to a desk wanting something – let’s call that something ‘X.’ A desk-monkey tells you that in order to have X, you have to consent to doing or having something else, let’s call that ‘Y.’ You’re told: ‘To have X, you have to accept Y.’ It’s like saying you have to accept the terms of service of obtaining X, which includes consenting to Y. You have been fully informed of the terms, and accept them. Informed consent of terms is intent, in my book. To get X, you have to intend to have Y, too. Those were the terms.”
Terms of service? Of getting a drink? What kind of strange, bizarre legalese is that?
I found the analogy I used really peculiar. I’m no lawyer, but I do spend a lot of time on a computer, installing computer software somewhat frequently, and playing my fair share of computer games. I’m just a general, run-of-the-mill geek.
It got me thinking about how different the digital world is from the actual one in this regard. You don’t have to agree to a Terms of Service 31 pages long in order to: buy a gun, bungee jump, play basketball, have sex, dye your hair, eat funky cheese that makes you breath smell bad the rest of the day, vote, smoke, lift heavy objects, or do anything else.
But to install simple software on your computer? You bet like hell you do.
And I’m willing to bet that no more than 1% of the players of the game have ever read the complete terms.
I can’t claim that I am any better. I typically make a half-hearted attempt to skim through terms (and by “skim,” I mean mash ‘Page Down,’ reading about a line per page, until I get to the end of the terms or fall asleep, whichever comes first). I’m secretly hoping some cheeky software developer with more money than sense is offering free candy to those who actually read their Terms of Service. One can only hope.
Fortunately, there are solutions for people like me, who want to know what we are consenting to, but are too lazy busy to actually read the terms. There is a nifty piece of software for Windows called EULAzyer that you can copy and paste Terms of Service into. It will analyze and alert you to anything suspicious. (Here is a nice overview of how it works). I love that I can use software to combat the burdens of other software. Technology is a wonderful thing.
The question remains why such lengthy terms of service are so prevalent and are considered acceptable in the digital world, but are so rare in the actual one. Could you imagine having to consent to a bizarrely large amount of terms just to do something simple, like purchase a drink? Thankfully, this isn’t the case, and hopefully it will never be.
Just because people are willing to press the extra “Continue” button when installing software should not make it okay to saddle them with a novella worth of terms to agree to.
Will I be reading the Terms of Service the next time I install software?
It’s not my intent.