Monday, September 1, 2008

The Real World: Zimbardo

So I've been reading The Lucifer Effect while also living my life (doing my thang, you know how I do). Not surprisingly, the two have intertwined like a well-cooked casserole, and I often find myself relating Zimbardo's theories to the actions and events in my daily activities. Here are two of my musings about the SPE and the applications I have found; note, though, that these are just theoretical relations and I could be totally off the mark.

This summer, I worked at a web site. One of my responsibilities was to monitor what people are saying--people are supposed to follow the "Be Nice Policy," but, well, a bunch of them don't. There are a whole host of [insert expletive here]s on the Internet writing comments that are so blatantly in violation of social mores that it would be hard to imagine anyone even considering acting this way in person. But on the Internet, they do.

And then it dawned on me: I don't know who these people are, and they don't think I know who they are. Their real self is disguised under a username and avatar, and they are essentially anonymous. (What they don't realize is that site administrators can track IP addresses and find fake accounts and lock/disable anything they write.) The theory about anonymity backed by Zimbardo and all of the research he cites--evil kids' Halloween party, guards with stunna shades--looks to be the exact cause of evil users. Given their prevalence, it only makes sense that some/most of them are normal, probably decent human beings. But on the Internet, they're assholes. Is the anonymity of the world wide web giving them cause to act in evil ways? Perhaps I'll ask Prof. Zimbardo and see what he thinks. Hmmm. Discuss.

Secondly, I thought about one of the prisoners' statements that it was the loss of control that really got to him. However, I also went on a rafting trip (which was most fun when the rapids beat the hell out of our boat) and went biking down a hugenormous hill with crappy brakes. And those were both really fun and exciting experiences--mostly because in those cases, I/we had very little control of the situation. The less control I had, the more fun it was. If I were in complete control, they would have been highly unmemorable situations.

But we all want control of our lives, right? And a lack of control drove some prisoners crazy. Is there a controlometer that determines what levels of control are aggravating and which are exciting? Does said controlometer fit conventiently into your pocket? How can lacking control be entertaining and painful?

Discuss. See you all tomorrow (well, today, but that's not important)!


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