I’m always fascinated to learn how technology and new media is impacting on human development (see my previous post, Surfing the Web: It’s good For You). Without doubt, popular culture has become more complex – due in large part to the fragmentation of traditional media. This, in turn, has required cognitive adaptation and has impacted how we interpret and interact with the world.
There’s a great article by Emily Yoffe on Slate at the moment that posits our addiction to information is a biological imperative which drives our seemingly endless need to check our Facebook profiles for updates or lose oursleves searching on Google. Researchers refer to this desire as seeking or wanting, an activity that affects the dopamine centers of our brains and causes us to chase the potential reward just around the corner (the reward being information). Here’s the rub: the possiblity of a payoff is much more stimulating than actually getting one. This quest for what “might be” creates a feedback loop where consumption continuously renews the appetite.
Since we’re restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away.
Perhaps, suggests Yoffe, “we’ve now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly”.
Read the full article here.