Beyond Economics

The End of Growth and Time for a New Era

The Internet as a Monkey Trap

The Monkey Trap

Google, Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, email, text messaging, gaming, virtual worlds…what is your banana? What so captures your attention that you can’t let go?

I saw a cartoon of a monkey trap (not this one) over 25 years ago in an article entitled Computers as Poison. The idea has stuck with me ever since. Today, I came across this explanation which describes the attention capture phenomenon quite well.

SEEKING: How the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting. And why that’s dangerous. Slate (8/12/09)

You can’t stop doing it. Sometimes it feels as if the basic drives for food, sex, and sleep have been overridden by a new need for endless nuggets of electronic information. We are so insatiably curious that we gather data even if it gets us in trouble….

Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling?

We actually resemble nothing so much as those legendary lab rats that endlessly pressed a lever to give themselves a little electrical jolt to the brain…Thank dopamine…

But our brains are designed to more easily be stimulated than satisfied. “The brain seems to be more stingy with mechanisms for pleasure than for desire,” Berridge has said. This makes evolutionary sense. Creatures that lack motivation, that find it easy to slip into oblivious rapture, are likely to lead short (if happy) lives. So nature imbued us with an unquenchable drive to discover, to explore…

For more on how to balance seeking and satisfaction for optimal experience, I recommend this book:
Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life
The basic thesis of the book is that we are most fulfilled when engaged in activites that challenge us at the optimal level, neither too much nor too little. The author goes on to describe how some people are able to “find flow” in almost any type of activity, even the seemingly mundane.

There can be a sense flow in losing oneself on the Internet, but the first article suggests that there is something about the nature of the Internet that makes it too easy to cross the line into unhealthy addictive behavior.


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