Re: Prompt as ask

Subject: Re: Prompt as ask
From: "Tom Murrell" <tmurrell -at- columbus -dot- rr -dot- com>
To: "Techwr-l" <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Mon, 13 Sep 1999 20:11:19 -0400

On September 13th, Jim Cort wrote, in part:

>Have you ever used "prompt" as a synonym for "ask"?
>Like so:
><A "yes" answer allows the system to find any new or invalid wuddleblups and
>prompt the user whether the new wuddleblups should be added and the invalid
>ones deleted.>
>This was in a document I got from a developer. At first I changed it, but
>then I thought using the word "prompt" connected it to the action on the
>screen: a system prompt to which the user must respond. So then I changed
>it back.

I had an interesting reaction when I first ready Jim's question; it was that
there is an element of volition in the answer to the question. It is so
easy to personify our computers. I know I tend to think of the ones I work
with as alive. I even talk back to them from time to time. (I realize this
admission may invalidate my observation in the minds of some.)

Anyway, it occurred to me that we tend to write, "The system _prompts_ the
user . . ." rather than, "The system _asks_ the user . . ." because _prompt_
does not imply volition but _ask_ does imply volition. If the system asks
the user a question, the system is performing a willful act. On the other
hand, if the system only prompts the user to do such and such, then the
system is not acting willfully; it is only following the instructions of its

I'm interested in how others react to this observation. I'm also interested
in other words or phrases we might use to distinguish between volitional
acts, which might be committed by human beings, and pre-programmed acts,
which are programmed into our systems.

Tom Murrell
Senior Technical Writer & Philosopher
Alliance Data Systems
mailto:tmurrell -at- alldata -dot- net
mailto:tmurrell -at- columbus -dot- rr -dot- com

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