Wednesday, 10 November 2010

It's not you in control. That's a Placebo button.

Just when you thought that you were controlling your environment, turns out your not. All those buttons that you push, they don't really have the control you imagine. Let's look at some examples
  • Close the door button in lifts,
  • Request to walk buttons on crossings,
  • Office thermostats.
Many of the above have no effect what so ever except maybe to show a "The button is pressed" light. And it makes sense to have it that way, lets see why..

Pushing a floor button tells the lift you want to go and most lift doors have person sensors. Would you want to get sued if you had your finger on the close button and someone was caught in the door ?

Traffic flow in cities is computer controlled often through many sequential junctions. Road censors provide the input for fine tuning and coordinating the cross flow of traffic. Having pedestrians generating random flow interrupts really does not help. Pedestrian crossing time is factored into the normal sequence.

For office thermostats, one persons hot is another ones cold. The overall environment is controlled by balancing between sensor points and flow control areas. Giving finer control by adding control points would not achieve anything unless there was a corresponding increase in flow control points. For many offices that is just not possible within the ducting infrastructure.

So why give the pretense of control ? It keeps people happy. "I am master of what I ( think I ) control." Make no mistake placebos work but only some of the time, you just have to believe, or not know about the fakery.

On the downside superstitions are born when folks think they are in control of a random event. poor predictions are made when control is assumed but not actual. Stepping out into the road 10 seconds after pushing the crossing button is really not a good strategy even if that's how it is supposed to work.


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