300-word story: Do you really believe you control the traffic lights?
Sarah is fascinated by placebo buttons. Her favourite example is located on the pedestrian crossing outside her home, which commands the green man to make a swift appearance. Another is in the lift at her workplace, confidently promising to close the metal doors more quickly. Total liars, the pair of them.
The office thermostat is yet another instance of this blatant dishonesty, as if she has greater sway over the ambient temperature than the intuitive system that places the universal comfort of her colleagues above her individual fluctuations.
Sarah secretly enjoys this trickery, successfully concealing her addiction to the bogus power these inanimate dealers hand out free of charge. Though sneaky in nature, she loves that the purpose of such devices is a charitable one. They fulfil the human desire for authority over the most mundane situations, those that are both automatic and inevitable.
This is often referred to as "illusion of control" and "benevolent deception" because these simple buttons, though deceitful, have our best interests at heart. They provide temporary distraction, make us feel like we rule our surroundings when it couldn't be further from the case, and offer catharsis thanks to robust designs that can handle the most vicious of prods.
Many of us recognise their falsehood, yet still we act as if placebo buttons retain a tangible function. After all, to acknowledge their futility would be to admit we are powerless over the smallest scenarios, and that's certainly no way to live.
The question, Sarah asks herself, is whether we value the fantasy of minor influence more than genuine responsibility. She pictures the pedestrian crossing and wonders if she's willing to admit, each time she needs to cross the street, that her movement is entirely dictated by a little green man who doesn't even know her name.
Copyright © 2021 Rich Sutherland