Some call it the “social media dopamine loop.” The short-attention-span jolt of Twitter is perfect for a few specialized things: breaking news, viral links – and presidential hissy fits. But it turns out, Twitter is perfect for jokes.
“A Twitter habit, like any other Internet addiction, is an endless dopamine loop. Your brain doesn’t have a satiety signal for social media updates. It just wants you to check your screen again and again for new content until you die. (NY Times, 7/29/18).”
Many want to opt out of the social media loop altogether. But their hedonic treadmills are turned up so fast that it’s hard to make the leap. Real life seems drab now, compared with the high-speed barrage of ironic banter online. It’s the dream of our sitcom-watching childhood come true: nothing but punch lines as far as the eye can see.
P.S. I will be taking some time off during August. I will only be posting blog updates on Mondays of the month, but will resume M-W-F postings after Labor Day (no post), on September 3.
Way back during the early years of the Obama administration, government agencies were beginning to use social media as a means of “getting our message out.” I volunteered to be a part of this “outreach” then, as a staff member at the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. It was all new to me, and as one of the more “senior” staff, I was eager to learn some new tricks. Now I am older and so is Twitter, and it is certainly not the novelty that it once was.
I think that it still serves as a convenient “short-hand” stream of consciousness for many, but it may have become overloaded with everyone’s desire to be heard in the name of open and free expression (“TechtoExpress”). Maggie Haberman of the NY Times put it this way this past week: “To be clear, Twitter is a useful and important platform. It’s a good aggregator for breaking news. I still check my feed to see breaking news developments, and I will continue to. And it is democratic – everyone gets to have a voice, whether they work for a local paper, a small TV station or one of the biggest newspapers in the world, or are not in the media business at all. The downside is that everyone is treated equally expert on various topics.”
“Make America Great Again.” Just get a Twitter account, and tweet away. You may even be elected president?
Trump is now the single biggest political advertiser on Facebook. So what’s your favorite addiction? Politics or social media? I think it is now safe to say after the last election, that if you like to get your “fake news” online, you were among those who were the most helpful in getting Trump elected. He may not have gotten the most individual Americans’ votes, but he certainly knew where the most counted and where to place his political ads, Facebook.
He still continues today and will probably continue to take the most advantage of Facebook’s hypnotic hold on those who believe that everything that they read or see online must be true! This is now the age of believing in your own opinions, regardless of what the facts may be. “If it’s online, it must be true.” As discussed on this blog on Monday, political consultants have said that Democrats who are running for election are spending a smaller percentage of their ad budgets on digital ads than their rivals, sometimes as little as 10 percent versus 40 percent for Republicans. That has spurred volunteer efforts in Silicon Valley, which is widely regarded as liberal, to help bring Democratic campaigns into the digital age.
The new digital political age? And if you can’t get enough followers, make them up.
Are all your Facebook friends happy and doing well? Probably not, and how would you really know anyway. Recently some researchers have attempted to evaluate Facebook’s impact on a sampling of its users in Denmark (1,097).
The experiment had half of its subjects continue their Facebook rituals and the other half abstain from them. Thirteen percent of the abstained could not keep away and wound up succumbing to their addiction. In the end, those who has no contact with Facebook during the course of a week rated their general sense of satisfaction higher than those who retained their habit. But apart from envy, Facebook seems to energize profound feelings of dread, perhaps especially for those in middle age, because it serves to to remind us over and over how many ways life can go horribly and dramatically wrong when we continuously hear the “bad news” about our friends’ lives. Maybe making our lives an “open book” has more negative consequences than we realize.
“The news is a delivery system for misery of course, especially now, but Facebook brings us news we might otherwise never encounter, supplying in bulk and elevating our relationship to it. The value of this remains dubious (Bellafante, NY Times, 4/15/18).”
So what do technology usage and lizards have to do with your brain? Maybe more than you think? Roger McNamee with the Center for Humane Technology has put it his way: “Facebook appeals to your lizard brain – primarily fear and anger. And with smartphones, they’ve got you every waking moment.” He said the people who made these products could stop them before they did more harm. He sees his association with the Center for Humane Technology as an opportunity for him to correct a wrong.
Sort of reminds me of Dr. Frankenstein who tried to kill the monster he created, but this is not really like a horror novel/movie. Or is it? Is too much technology addicting our children (and adults?) to habits that are “ripping apart the social fabric of how society works.” The Center for Humane Technology, along with the nonprofit media watchdog group Common Sense Media, is also planning an anti-tech addiction lobbying effort and an ad campaign at 55,000 public schools in the United States. It is titled “The Truth About Tech.”
Can we stand the truth? I hope so.
My apologies for not posting on Monday of this week. Let’s just say that I was “in transit” and had a “tech-free day” which leads me to the to the message of today’s post and the one that you will see on Friday as well. It’s all about limiting our daily digital diets. Or as those scholarly Jesuits used to teach us: “Moderation in all things.”
Social media’s “role in your life has grown without your permission. No one had that in mind when they signed up for Facebook to stay in touch with their college roommate . . . There is a lot of complexity and uncertainty in the role that these technologies should play in personal and professional life. We’re past the stage where they’re novel, but not to the point where they’re stable (Cal Newport, Georgetown University, 2018).” A common complaint seems to be that there is too much news: I need a break. And fewer tweets from the White House might help (maybe none, remember those days)!
We have gone from “TechtoExpress” (sound familiar?) to “TechtoConsume.”
We really don’t know what the long-term effects of “mobile technology” will be on our current school-age and under school-age generations in America (and the world?). Unfortunately, much of the preliminary data suggest that we have to do something to control its indiscriminate and obsessive use. “What this generation is going through right now with technology is a giant experiment (Jensen, University of Pennsylvania).”
As researchers debate appropriate public health messaging, kids are receiving their first smartphones at even younger ages – the average is 10, according to one recent estimate – and they’re spending more and more time on their devices. “I am probably on my phone 10 hours a day,” says Santiago Potocnik Senarahi, a 16-year-old 11th grader in Denver. Even when he’s not using his phone, it’s always with him, and he never considers taking a break. “This is part of my life and part of my work, and [that] means I need to be in constant contact.” “The more we learn about kids and Smartphones, the more we’re going to see that limiting their exposure is a good idea (Twenge, San Diego State University).”
I will be back on Monday with a list of some “Tips the Get Teens to Put Down Their Smartphones.” And maybe these tips will also help some of us in the “older generations?”
I’m just not sure who to believe any more? One day the papers report (yes, I still read old time print news) that that the U.S. economy is not meeting grow the expectations, and the next day I discover that more jobs have been created than expected. The “devil may be in the details” here, since the key question seems to be “what kind of jobs?” Recent growth statistics may be the most telling. Over the second quarter in the U.S. a predicted growth rate of 2 percent is a far cry from the 4 percent that the so-called president pledged. Using Twitter, Trump will probably be the first person to dispute these numbers and predict even bigger growth rates in the future.
Please don’t accept the Trump tweets as factual or even as “alternative facts.” I often think of Trump’s obsession with tweeting as a modern day equivalent of Nero fiddling while Rome burns. Many expert economists note that so far the economy’s trajectory remains the same as it did under President Obama. Furthermore, without a meaningful change in government policies – greater infrastructure investment, an overhaul of the corporate tax code, a new commitment to improve the skills of American workers – there is no reason to expect the domestic outlook to change. “The safe bet is to expect more of the same. Unless we do things to boost productivity, this is the economy that we are going to see.”
So far, we have not seen these meaningful changes. Time to put down “Nero’s fiddle,” take away Trump’s Twitter account and make him do something Presidential. I don’t think he can really help himself.
It has now been reported that American teenagers are growing less likely to try or regularly use drugs, including alcohol. So what is the cause of this dramatic change in teenagers’ behavioral (experimental) habits? Are teenagers replacing drugs with smartphones? Experts see an interesting correlation. Researchers are starting to ponder an intriguing question: Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?
Researchers are saying that “With minor fits and starts, the trend has been building for a decade, with no clear understanding as to why. Some experts theorize that cigarette-smoking rates are cutting into a key gateway to drugs, or that anti drug education campaigns, long a largely failed enterprise, have finally taken hold.” Scientists also say that interactive media appears to play to similar impulses as drug experimentation, including sensation-seeking and the desire for independence. Or it might be that gadgets simply absorb a lot of time that could be used for other pursuits, including partying?
So many gadgets, so little time to do everything else, whatever that might be? Perhaps the most intriguing phenomenon is that we have so many addictions to choose from, if we really have nothing else we want or need to do?
I will not be posting a blog on Friday, Saint Patrick’s Day. I know you will all be too busy commemorating this “holy day.” Thanks for following TechtoExpress. Back on Monday, March 20.
Who me? It could be. Clinically speaking, there seem to be two major conditions that might describe this phenomenon more accurately. We could be suffering from “compulsion loop” or perhaps “cognitive overload.” It is not the technology itself that is the cause of these behaviors, but how we use or overuse all the technology that surrounds us. Some researchers describe our dependency more if terms of being an addiction that can unknowingly impact our personal and family lives in the most negative ways.
The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect. Similarly, endless access to new information also easily overloads our working memory. When we reach “cognitive overload,” our ability to transfer learning to long-term memory significantly deteriorates. It’s as if our brain has become a full cup of water and anything more poured into it starts or spill out.
So I guess it’s all about moderation in all things which you may have heard before. Some “addicts” also suggest specific rehabilitative measures such as going offline for specific portions of the day. Maybe the most dramatic, and sometimes described as the most restorative, is going offline for several weeks at a time. Call it a digital-free vacation.