The Foreign


The result of an element being "different" or "foreign" is an increase in user stress. Depending on the user's condition, the increase in stress can create anxiety or excitement. When the user encounters a foreign element, they are faced with a decision about whether to attempt to understand the element or whether they should attempt to eliminate it from their environment.

Subtle and spectacular effects are possible when the stress is channelled through learned behaviours. The primary types of response are "fight" or "flight," which, in most cases relating to designed objects, this is accomplished socially. Strategies can include:

  • Dismissal and derision of an element the user doesn't understand ("I don't understand it, so it can't be good")
  • Refusal to abandon the attempt to understand (users will be incited to spend long periods of time searching for the meaning of the piece, taking their known reliable skills as tools, or learning new tools)
  • Bluffing (user pretends to have understood the element, suppresses knowledge of failure),
  • Abandonment (user moves on, hopes they haven't missed anything, that the element won't "follow" them),
  • Minimisation of the problem through categorisation ("I know it's just a painting, it doesn't matter if I don't understand"),
  • Internalising the conflict (the user sees an unknown element as a failure on their part, and internalises that failure as part of their self image),
  • Associating the element as part of a similar phenomena which has blocked them in the past (even if that phenomena isn't related in any other way),
  • Classification of the element as a "mystery" (when a sub-pattern is recognised, the user can associate the element with that pattern as an unknown of that type, the element is "safe," even if it isn't known).

Greek cult of []Demeter and []Persephone would hold sacred rites in dark, underground chambers where the audience could only catch glimpses of the ceremony through the pillars and the dim light. Because the users felt they were a part of the depth (they were fairly safe), they were able to feel the fear and uncertainty as a positive influence, to embrace the "mystery" as such.

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Copyright (c) 1997 -- Mike Fletcher
Reproduction for other than personal use prohibited without express written permission from the author.