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Monday, 15 October, 2001, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Surrender control to your mobile
BBC Go Digital's Jon Wurtzel casts a wry eye over the developments in the world of technology

Mobile devices and personal digital assistants are marketed to us as miniature butlers.

They are sold as technology that lets us work and play anywhere and anytime we want; that serves our needs before we even realise we have them.

In other words, mobile devices promise us greater personal freedom. But here's a twist - a project using mobile phones to toy with your personal liberty.

It is called Surrender Control and comes from The Media Centre in Huddersfield in the UK.

Enigmatic messages

Recruitment into Surrender Control will occur via an enigmatic marketing campaign.

Small notices in magazines and flyers left in bars will ask "Do you want to surrender control?", and list a telephone number.

If someone responds "yes" to this cryptic question by sending in a text message to this number, they become part of the project.

Click here to tell us what you think about giving up control to your mobile phone?

Participants will then be sent batches of text messages on their mobile phones instructing them to behave in specific ways.

Surrender Control starts with a series of thought questions, such as: "What did you do last night?"

But soon the game escalates. The messages demand physical actions - something as simple as writing the word "sorry" on their hand in indelible ink, or knocking something over, or breaking something.

Moving on to increasingly bizarre behaviour, instructions tell users to touch two people at the same time, or follow someone into a bathroom.

Finally, Surrender Control ends with a message ordering the user to forget everything they have experienced.

Random and unexpected

Mobile phone
Would you do what it says?
With this project, The Media Centre aims to disrupt the patterns and routines of urban behaviour with the random and unexpected.

If you are on a train, following the instruction to touch two people at the same time will have a different implication than if you're in a business meeting.

Surrender Control provides an excuse to escape routine, to behave differently.

It makes good on mobile devices' promise of increased personal freedom, even if this freedom is temporary and comes from an unknown text-messaging service.

It also slyly reverses the traditional relationship between consumer and device. Here, the mobile device becomes the master, and the user its bidding servant.

HAVE YOUR SAY

Its seems very similar to the book The Dice Man which offered the dice players a chance to surrender control through following actions dictated by the roll of dice. I believe that this was carried out in reality by various people who all took it quite seriously.
Ollie, UK


Just what we need, an excuse for someone to say their actions were not their fault

Mike Walls, USA
Fun, maybe. But what happens if people react angrily to someone touching them or has anyone thought how this may disturb other people's lives. Their rights have to be protected and they may not want someone carrying out pranks just because he or she are so bored with their lives.
Pete, Northern Ireland

Just what we need, an excuse for someone to say their actions were not their fault. Going to be quite a few busted lips when people start following people into the bathrooms and touching people they don't know.
Mike Walls, USA


Surrendering control to a second party is much easier for us already, but the idea to make a game out of it is absolutely brilliant

Caram Kapp, Germany
Let's say that it sounds intriguing at the least. People are already used to being told or advised on nightlife, music and stocks by SMS, or by messages from friends telling them what to do and where to go. Surrendering control to a second party is much easier for us already, but the idea to make a game out of it is absolutely brilliant. The fact that the mobile phone accompanies its users will make it most difficult to get out of it. But somehow this feels like taking computer games into real life, with real risks and real tasks. The question is, what does this tell us about those who are playing?
Caram Kapp, Germany

Sounds like quite a fun project though part of me thinks it is a bit sad that our society is so bound by routine and conformity that people need to be given instructions by an unknown entity in order to be spontaneous.
Simon Gray, UK


There are some great and innovative messaging campaigns heading towards our mobile phones. This surely isn't one of them

Will, UK
It could be very interesting experiment in social behaviour if it is ran in the correct manner. It could, however, go out of control as some of the participants many take the commands to extreme limits. For example, in your article you suggest the commands could ask people to knock something over or break something. Imagine if some lunatic decided to knock somebody over or 'break' someone's car or house window? This could be a very dangerous game.
Dave B, UK

There is no doubt that we are experiencing a glut of MS based messaging campaigns at the moment. Marketers are pooling their resources to come up with real value added services for subscribers, for instance cheap flights at the last minute. The recipient of such an alert might well prosper. I simply cannot see how the Media Centre can claim that this will benefit anyone, let alone the recipients. There are some great and innovative messaging campaigns heading towards our mobile phones. This surely isn't one of them.
Will, UK

Sounds fun, like a continuous game of double dare without the need to gather together a group of friends.
Alison, UK

I think this is nuts and represents nothing more than a cynical revenue-generating ploy by the mobile phone companies.
Kim Martin, United Kingdom


The whole point about this experiment seems to be to see how far people will allow themselves to be controlled

John, Belgium
An interesting experiment. However I am not sure how they would monitor the results.
Graham , England

The whole point about this experiment seems to be to see how far people will allow themselves to be controlled. After all, anyone taking part in it can not do what they are asked. Isn't that the whole point? Rather than worrying about what this says about society, or causing fights on trains, this sounds like an interesting way of gauging people's strength of mind. Sure you can tell yourself that this is a game, but at some point you have the choice to say no, and not to carry out the required action. How does the project get feedback on whether users did the things requested I wonder?
John, Belgium

Sounds like a big waste of time to me, what could you possibly get out of it?
James B, England

Complete mystery to me. If you want to live life to the full you must grasp control not give it up. How else can you guarantee doing all the things that you want to do?
Mark B, UK


A ridiculous, sad idea. Anyone who plays should be ashamed of themselves

Steve, England
Childish and pointless. What could this possibly prove other than that the person carrying out the commands is stupid and sheepish?
Mark, UK

This is not surrendering control. Firstly, you control whether or not to participate in the beginning. You are therefore controlling this lack of control. And obviously you can stop at any time. But it is an interesting idea anyway.
Vitor Thoma, France

A ridiculous, sad idea. Anyone who plays should be ashamed of themselves.
Steve, England

Having witnessed a friend's dependence to his mobile phone, the role of the mobile is no longer just communication aid, but as a major influence in ones life. This Surrender Control is just one little step further for those who cannot function without their daily SMS chats, phone calls and voice mails managing their current existence. My only concern is the levels of "control" it could have. Dangerous games could be played.
Kyla, UK

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What do you think of the Surrender Control project? How far would you go in doing what your phone asks?

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You can hear Jon every week on Go Digital, which is webcast on the BBC World Service site and BBC News Online every Monday at 1500 GMT.

It is broadcast on BBC World Service radio on:

  • Tuesday at 1905 GMT
  • Wednesday at 0105 and 1405 GMT
  • Thursday at 0905 GMT
See also:

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Txt msging: Th shp of thngs 2 cm?
15 Oct 99 | e-cyclopedia
Txt msging Part 2: The vocab list
26 Sep 01 | Business
Picking the right mobile phone
03 Sep 01 | dot life
Stuck in the mobile with you
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