Shanghai train station, long exposure.
I wrote previously about Internet use and depression, how we tend to multi-distract and overstimulate when feeling bummed. This is an effect which Dr. Peter Whybrow says is akin to electric cocaine. “Our brains are wired for finding immediate reward. With technology, novelty is the reward. You essentially become addicted to novelty.” (via the Pacific Standard).
It’s an interesting interview, and there are many studies coming out showing the same (I think obvious thing). This I thought was an interesting point:
“Many of the usual constraints that prevented people from doing things 24 hours a day—like distance and darkness—were falling away,”
We now have nearly infinite choices, but this can be crippling. Our frontal (“executive”) cortex really isn’t that strong or executive at all. We are driven primarily by reptilian/mammalian impulses and the frontal cortext doesn’t control these impulses as much as comment sardonically after they’ve made a mess.
With computers, smartphones and the Internet we have the power to do almost anything at anytime, and this can of course lead to some bad loops. Not that I want to go back to naturally imposed limits, I mean, I like having lighting and being able to talk to my sisters in America (which I should do more often, actually) and, like, watch Pan’s Labyrinth when I feel like it. Rather than going back to natural limits, I think we just need to set artificial ones, which is an opportunity for the next generation of technology.
Say, iPads that require ten push-ups to unlock. Email programs that only download once a day, unless they detect something insanely important. Phones which schedule calls at mutually convenient times, and force you to call your grandmother once a week. This can proceed towards a gamification of life, whereby the currently random reward system of the net is geared towards meaningful goals – staying healthy, maintaining social connections, working harder, helping others.
There is a problem in technology yes, but I see this more as an opportunity for better tech than a call to blanket shut it off.
The full interview is worth a read.