Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We're Addicts. Or Cats.

Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal, about how addictive browsing the web can be. The word "addictive" may be closer to the reality than is comfortable.

Research suggests that humans get pleasurable feedback from encountering and processing new situations and new information, possibly even through the release of natural opioids in the brain. This makes sense. If our monkey curiosity is the key to our evolutionary success, and to our nature as humans, then it's logical that using that curiosity would be pleasing. Evolution rewards success, and sometimes directly in the now.

The question is whether this capacity can be overloaded by technology that evolution could not prepare us for. Could the flood of new data that the toobz feeds us be turning that pleasurable feedback into a permanent "on" rather than an occasional reward? Is this why people find it so hard to tear themselves away from the blogs, even when it harms their normal "meatspace" life? The article compares to a cat chasing the red dot from a laser pointer. It's natural hunt-and-kill instinct is overwhelmed by a stimulus outside its evolutionary experience. It can't help but keep chasing, even when there's no prey to catch.

Maybe what we all need is an internal SWAT team that will occasionally show up with serious firepower to say, "SIR! BACK AWAY FROM THE LAPTOP! NOW, SIR!!"

I mean, look at me. I read this article and what did I do? Blogged about it.

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