Most of us would commonly react with a light laugh and a quick dismissal when faced with the idea that we have no control over our life and its events. “That can’t be true,” we argue, “I make my own choices, I am in control.” But how much are we truly in control of what we choose, what we buy, what we consume and produce, and where we go? And, if we’re slowly losing control, is it then becoming more difficult to take responsibility? Humans want to believe that everything is under the control of humanity and that personal involvement, a desired income, and a focus on accomplishment will lead to the achievement of our goals. We are socialised to need complete control to the extent that we create instead illusions of control when all evidence of genuine control is absent.
With technological and scientific exploration being able to investigate millions of years backwards; to predict and build a better and custom future, many could argue that details of our existence are being decided with the highest degree of certainty humanity has ever known. Yet, despite all this progress, people still experience the world with extreme uncertainty. Control not only becomes desirable but absolutely necessary. Economy, politics, technology, and any other overarching power are doing more for society than individual agency can ever achieve. Most of the world is explained through cause and effect relations, which often expand beyond our status and will power. Our choices are hardly choices at all in these circumstances, selected to fit in these patterns so that we might not fall outside of the entire social construction. Going online, for instance, has become a mechanical response to such unfamiliarity and uncertainty: we rely on technology as a tool of enhancing our knowledge and participation in the world.
The internet puts us, even fleetingly, in control over what we know, the answers we have, or the things we own, in return for our surrendered control over how we manage our time and the habits we develop. How often do you find yourself picking up your phone as an automated reaction when you’re bored or putting something off? You went on Google to find important information but ended up on Yahoo Answers reading celebrity gossip. In a study on common patterns of online user behaviour, Harvard Business School has found that people do not allocate more time when something new comes along online, but instead shift attention from old sites onto new ones. One click and you’re on an unknown adventure across the World Wide Web. By tackling the issue of control and uncertainty through the use of the internet, we are essentially giving in to an extremely false sense of security. We substitute control for the illusion of control.
In a similar vein, recent shifts in consumer behaviour, especially with the interplay of offline and online, highlight the rising importance of online shopping in the modern day. As with “shopping” for information via search engines, millions of consumers are able to “go shopping” at any moment of the day by clicking on an app on their phone or typing in the brand name online to be directed to an e-shop. Consumers move back and forth between seeing something in store or advertised on a billboard to going online and doing research about the product. Shopping online seems easier; we can avoid travelling costs, large crowds and very long queues by checking out online. It’s so accessible to us that it would seem silly to do otherwise. The internet has changed the relationship between consumers and the level of control that they have over shopping selections. Online consumer activity has merged with consumer choices made in real life. The boundaries between online and offline have blurred and shoppers are left with even less control than before using the internet. Online shopping has replaced uncertainty and unfamiliarity with yet another illusion of control.
We live in very uncertain times, when the illusion of control is necessary for human survival. Feeling responsible is what makes many of us wake up in the morning and keep striving towards ultimate control; a hint at loss of control will make anyone do anything to regain it. We rely on the internet to gain a stronger understanding and have a better grasp of the world we live in, but often lose hold of ourselves and our lives in return. We are still able to take responsibility for our lives and our choice, precisely because of this illusion of control, but is this responsibility just another type of modern-day illusion?
Words: Marianna Mukhametzyanova
Copy edited by Elena Stanciu