The roller coaster problem…

A safe way to explore danger is generally fun. People don’t flock to roller coasters because they really love physics and mechanics being put on display. They’re not huge fans of larger than life examples of kinetic and potential energy.

People go on roller coasters because they are a safe way to explore high speeds, sharp turns, and flipping upside down. Because you are strapped in with an oversized foam mechanical arm in a machine that you’ve seen do the same loop 400 times while you waited on line, it takes most of the danger out of the equation and makes way for the thrills. If you were loosely buckled into a car taking turns at 70mph on a winding mountain road with a cliff on one side, you wouldn’t be so excited.

This also translates to other forms of entertainment- take TV as an example. To get more specific- crime dramas are wildly popular. For many people who watch them, this is the only way they will experience these dangerous, high octane situations. While it might be exciting to binge watch Criminal Minds and see a bevy of disturbing felonies unfold, it is from the comfort of your bed where you’re definitely NOT eating the entire sleeve of Chips Ahoy… it was only half-full when you opened it. The point being, it’s a safe way to explore danger.

This activation of your ‘fight or flight’ response from a safe place also has its drawbacks. People can become desensitized to the actual danger in the behavior. Think of violent video games or the news or videos of people falling- when you are exposed to the concepts over and over again, the actual danger and consequences which would happen in the real world start to lose their meaning.

Nowhere is this on display more plainly that in the digital worlds we all live within. Negative comments on a video or social media page that people wouldn’t dream of saying in person come flying out. Because someone is sitting safely in their chair, they think it’s funny to spew hatred online- where they think there are no consequences. Students casually comment about bringing guns to school or about bombs as if those words carry no weight. They wouldn’t dream of saying any of it aloud to an adult, but it’s safe online. Watch them be shocked as the police come to the door and charge them with a felony. They think because they are at home on their phone eating dinner with their family that those words don’t carry weight, that people will know that they aren’t serious, that it was ‘just for fun’.

The roller coaster problem is great for theme parks but can wreak havoc in our day-to-day lives. Recognizing dangerous behaviors that have become normalized through ‘safe’ means is a vital skill. Sometimes putting words to it is the first step… and analogies help. Next time you get ready to write a negative email or post online, think of the rollercoaster.