Look Up!

Keeping it in the family. A graphic illustration of Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD).

“I feel tremendous guilt,” admitted Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook, to an audience of Stanford students. He was responding to a question about his involvement in exploiting consumer behavior. “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works,” he explained.

As seen in a shopping center in Viet Nam. I normally don’t make a habit of photographing people without their permission but with no identifying features – they’re all looking down and wearing face masks – I didn’t feel it was necessary with these three.

It always makes me sad to see people glued to their electronic devices, in this case, two smart(dumb)phones and one tablet. They’re sitting close to each other but are living (existing?) in their own little worlds. They could be anywhere where there is an Internet connection.

You can almost feel that rush of dopamine watching them type, tap, and swipe away. Mmm! (It’s not unlike the rush smokers feel after that first puff.) And always that glazed look on the faces of people whose undivided attention is on their devices and whatever entertainment they are providing. You know what it’s like to speak to someone who is looking down and tuning out the physical world around them in favor of the virtual one, right? Whether it’s a comment or a question, you end up repeating yourself two or three times. That’s the power and allure of the Internet via portable devices.

Courtesy Science in the News (SITN), The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University

As a 2018 article entitled Dopamine, Smartphones & You: A battle for your time points out, Dopamine is a chemical produced by our brains that plays a starring role in motivating behavior. It gets released when we take a bite of delicious food, when we have sex, after we exercise, and, importantly, when we have successful social interactions. In an evolutionary context, it rewards us for beneficial behaviors and motivates us to repeat them.

The problem is, instead of eating something good and delicious, having sex, exercising, or enjoying successful social interactions, people are spending too much time watching videos, playing games, checking their Facebook (or whatever) account, or mindlessly surfing the Internet, i.e., wasting finite time. It’s even sadder to see children, smartphone or tablet in hand, doing the same thing when they could playing alone or with friends, reading a book (remember those?), seeing something new, simply doing nothing (remember thinking?), or doing some kind of exercise.

Look Up! and live in the physical world. Stop wasting precious time. Life’s short. The clock is ticking.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

Smartphone as babysitter

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