The Road Less Travelled
Do Not Frown

Control is Not Control (but it still feels good)


[Ripped from here]

The desire for control seems to be a universal motivator - we are endlessly fascinated by our ability to effect change outside of ourselves.

Our macro ability to modify our environment is one of the defining features of humanity, but at a personal level we love to control the world around us - it's a corollary of our desire for choice, despite the paradoxes that brings.

Babies demonstrate the appeal of control [in controlled experiments].

[Whilst experimenting on babies sounds a bit unpleasant, infant psychology is truly fascinating. Ask yourself, how do babies think, before they can speak?

While you are asking yourself, you are thinking in words - they can't do that.

It must be like accessing the world without the filter of language, before Lacan's Great Other, the language instinct, exerts its desire for control, slicing up the continuum of reality into chunks, things, words... but I digress. Kind of.]

In the Paradox of Choice, Schwartz mentions an experiment where one group of babies - those who had control [but not, paradoxically, the control group] - were put into cribs face up. If they turned their heads they activated some dancing animal lights above them.

They quickly learn that the dancing animals respond to them moving and so they keep doing it again and again and again.

[Babies love repetition - they control basically nothing in their lives, so when they see something "Again! Again!" it's something that isn't new, something therefore they feel control over.]

A second group also get to see the animals, when group one activates them, but has no control. They quickly lose interest.

It's not the light show that is interesting - it's the control:

I did this! Isn't it great. And I can do it again whenever I want.

This feeling of control is rewarding - in fact it may be crucial to remaining chipper. Some believe that one of the triggers of depression is learned helplessness - the feeling that nothing you do can really to alter your situation.

Prior [perhaps repeated] exposure to uncontrollable negative events makes you think that nothing you do makes any difference.

That's what I think Copeland was talking about in Generation X, when he said:

Control is not control.

The illusion of freedom, delivered through the illusion of [too much] consumer choice, ultimately resolves to an understanding that nothing you do [buy] makes any difference, which precipitates slacker ennui.


Anyway, the point being is that we want to have an impact on our environment - it makes us feel good, which perhaps lies at the heart of the appeal of interactive media - by definition it is content which you can influence.

The rise of games and gaming behaviours is undoubtedly a response to our desire to have greater control over content - and it's going to continue to spread into other content forms.

With things like this interactive video trailer for new crystal meth cookery drama Breaking Bad [found via Hyper] - it's ultimately a trailer that you can click on - but that makes it something different, blurring the boundaries between video and website and game.

And, although you know you can't really change the outcome [it really wants you to watch the trailer] - it still feels good to be controlling the experience.

So, if you want people to get involved in your communication, give them something to do.