Smart Phone Dopamine Doping

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I fondly remember the first cell-phones. And by cell-phones I mean the old brick sized cell phones that would come with their own power supply the size of a car battery. I would constantly check my voice mail to see if anyone left me a voice message. I became thrilled if someone left me an electronic message and asked me to do something. I also became disappointed if there were no messages, especially after loading up my briefcase to haul this monstrosity of communications device around.

 

Of course with continued miniaturization, you could finally fit your phone into your pocket without having to carry a briefcase. But as the phones got smaller, the larger their impact on your overall life. When the phones finally developed the most miniature of screens, this was like mana from heaven. Texting was pointless for me when you had to type a button three times to get the proper letter to form a word. No wonder the WTF abbreviations finally started and formed part of our lexicon. Writing, became another art form slowly being lost.

A lot of people believe that the precursor of the end of civilization as we know it came with the advent of smartphones. Now you really can communicate with anyone in the world and at the same time lose the ability to relate to everyone else.

 

Of course, the end of civilization was to end with television, and before that radio, and before that the telegraph, printed books etc. Even Aristotle opposed writing somewhat since then his students didn’t really learn something if they didn’t have to memorize it. This little bit of wisdom may still apply today since you can search the world’s knowledge whenever you want to and you don’t really have to understand it. The context of everything then becomes a little bit more lost.

The intellectual train comes with a bunch of preliminary cars such as facts, information, knowledge, wisdom and finally you get to the locomotive we all want to reach, enlightenment. But with our attention span fallen below 8 seconds, which is lower than the common goldfish, enlightenment may only come as a result of a search engine.

 

We are so anxious to get our little dopamine fix. I used to play Black Jack a fair bit. This was the one game where you could get closest to beating the house. Rest assured, you think you can beat them over the very long-term, but you can’t. That’s why they have such great hotels in Vegas. Any money leakage is quickly squashed. I had a fairly simple system of knowing all the odds and pressing the advantage whenever the cards starting going my way. It paid for a couple of trips, but I got out when the going was good since the long game always favors the house. But I remember the chemical effects. You can feel the dopamine pouring through your system whenever a good card was laid out. You win just enough to keep you completely engaged. And you can now feel this same effect whenever you agree to push notifications from your favorite social media.

 

I had my computer bing whenever a new email came in. I would drop, electronically, whatever email I was working on in order to read the new email. My concentration was slowly being eaten away as I agreed to the new hormonal influx from the new email. It would take me a minute or two to get properly focused on whatever I was doing before however.

 

Now you can get notifications whenever something new is posted, or new comments on that post, or if someone comments on your post, or if someone comments on your comments. Time keeps getting chopped up more finely.

After a while it seems that you might have an angry squirrel in your pocket since your phone constantly chitters at you. Begging for a bit more attention. If this is making people happy, then more power to them. But this seems like a short jump to Brave New World when the population turned to Soma instead of facing reality. Attaching electrodes directly to the brain seems to be simpler and faster route than having to go through the smart phone interface.

 

Eventually things got bad enough that I turned off all push notifications from any sort of social media. This recapture of free will became most liberating. I feel that being able to focus on one thing at time increased my creativity as I go through various scenarios. This reduction in dopamine happiness likely had other positive ramifications however.

 

Scientific American provided some research on the difference between happiness and well-being. There appears to be a synergistic effect where one can increase the other but they remain different. One can be happy watching TV even though you would be better off learning something new or completing that homework assignment. By changing your focus from short-term tactical happiness you can then focus on the long-term strategic happiness.

 

 

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