A fundamental force of adaptation in human beings is our attempt to control the environment. 1 Infants try to get control of their environment by crying. Cuteness is a built-in genetic adaptation that augments crying and also facilitates environmental control. As we age, this strategy does not work very well and people control the environment by fitting-in, which is another type of control. Security, freedom, independence, and emancipation are the rewards of obtaining control. Getting wheels and driving, acquiring a secure and comfortable home, obtaining a job, and achieving financial security are milestones in achieving control. One person’s gain in control can sometimes lead to a loss of control by another. This is the collateral damage that can occur when someone gains too much control over others. For example, colleagues, family, and friends can facilitate (or hinder) the drive for environmental control. However, that same individual can in turn use the control to dominate those who helped him or her to achieve environmental control. Many individual and group conflicts can be traced to someone seeking excessive control or to someone else seeking emancipation from the excessive control.
The two fundamental strategies used to control the environment are primary control and secondary control. Primary control occurs when an individual tries to directly engage with and change the external environment to fit his or her needs and wishes. 2 Secondary control is a type of control that is directed at changing the self in order to cope with the environment. Secondary control is a goal-directed coping strategy for minimizing losses in primary control and also a mechanism for maintaining and increasing primary control. Individuals that do not engage in primary or secondary control have relinquished control and this is manifested by passivity and helplessness. Individuals engaging in primary control try to fix the environment, and those engaged in secondary control try to adapt to the environment. Both strategies assist in coping with the stress and complexity that are part of the everyday activities in the external environment.
We have found that primary and secondary controls also influence feelings of psychological ownership an individual has towards his or her avatar in an online game. 3 Psychological ownership occurs when people have feelings of ownership towards material things or tangible objects and even immaterial or intangible objects. 4 It occurs when an individual views the object as mine. We have found that the key to obtaining lock-in in online gaming environments is to get game players to embrace the system as though they own it. This ownership is the direct result of being able to exercise both primary and secondary controls over their online character by way of the user interface and by successfully interacting with members of the online guilds.
Facebook is a very interesting case of using systems to gain environmental control. It is very difficult for people to actually brag about their day-to-day accomplishments and activities in the real world or non-online world. It is much easier, and is indeed acceptable, in Facebook interactions to talk about oneself. There are several mechanisms built into Facebook that encourage bragging. For example, if a picture is added to the photo library or is used to display the image on the Facebook profile, then it is acceptable to brag or tout one’s stuff on the accomplishment or the activity. Facebook permits people to control what is known and what is not known about them. It also opens up new lines of communication and it can sometimes alleviate loneliness and even increase recognition and status. LinkedIn is the social networking tool of choice for bragging about professional accomplishments and looking for a job, while Twitter is the outlet of choice for serial braggers and businesses that want to obtain exposure.
The bottom line is that if people can control a product or service or if a product or service helps to actually control the world, people will feel that they own the artifact and thus become locked-in to using that product or service out of loyalty.
There are of course issues of having too much control and having too many options. There is some evidence that having too many choices leads to decision paralysis and some people believe that having too many choices contributes to depression. 5 Novice users of any product or service need directed guidance. A wireless phone or a DVR needs to be easy to use for the first-time user, but also readily customizable as experience grows and new features are sought.