Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Dopamine of Social Media (and how to avoid it)

Within the last two weeks I have been reading a number of articles that make the point that social media is a great deal like an addictive drug.

The core of this argument is that when we engage in social media - when we are "liked" by someone for something that we have said - our brains get a small shot of dopamine, that reward to a stimulus that makes us feel pleasure and good about something.  We can get it from other items as well - exercise, for example, can result in this if engaged it - but social media is a whole lot easier for the population to engage in.

As I read these articles, an aspect of my behavior suddenly become apparent to me.

I am always a great deal more likely to check social media like FaceMagazine when I have posted something.  And sure enough when I do, I find that I get that little jolt of happiness:  "Look, X liked my comment - or look there, Y gave me a little heart on my comment."  I keep going back and back until the stream has played out and the comments have disappeared.  And then, if I am not careful, I am back to looking for something else to give the same reaction.

In other words, I have become an addict.

If one is an addict, of course, one has only two options.  The first is simply to do nothing and continue on - but that eventually leads to destruction as we are continue crave the jolt more and more and the old jolts just no longer do the job.  We would have to stay on FaceMagazine longer and longer to get the same level of excitement (which, of course, is exactly what the founders of it were hoping for).

The second, of course, is to go cold turkey.  To cut it off completely.  To find the dopamine hits from legitimate pursuits instead of short cuts.

I will note in passing that blogs do not seem to have that same effect.  I pondered this a bit and decided that perhaps it is due to the fact blog comments are discussion and thoughts, as well as "likes".  I look forward to comments but do not react to them with the same sort of enzymatic glee.

Oddly enough, drug addiction due to craving of the dopamine receptors is seen as destructive and not productive.  How is it that we have not come to view social media in the same way?


  1. I avoided it like a hawk the second I saw it. I have all the wrong opinions. My mother insisted we all go on Fecesbook and to shut her up I set up an account. I put up a couple pics of a camping trip and a BBQ and then let it go dormant. There was something on it called a 'message wall' where passersby could leave messages and greetings and the pigs at work filled mine up with rude fart jokes, insults and the like - and my mother had a bird when she saw it. Some of them were pretty good. I guess all of her clucky friends saw it too Mom was scandalized. That was 10 ~ 12 years ago and she's still mad at me about it. I had to look up the directions on how to close my account and it was a bit of a chore back then. The guys at Fecesbook clearly didn't want people closing their accounts but I figured it out and finally shut it down. That ticked off Mom too - I was supposed to clean up my act and use it responsibly - whatever that meant. It is addictive though, especially for women. I fired two women at work that just couldn't stay off it and were on it during working hours. I didn't mind an odd post during coffee or a slow spell - but sheesh, they were on it all the time. I don't think it's a good thing.

  2. Glen, it certainly does not lend itself to any sort of intellectual discussion.

    I have found it useful for keeping up with family and friends - and hopefully have let people know not to clutter it up with things I am embarrassed at or uncomfortable with (and for the most part, people respect that). But I still find it incredibly addictive if I do not watch myself like a hawk.

    Oddly enough, young people by and large have little to nothing to do with it. Something about always being visible to your parents or some-such.

  3. I think blogs take more work to read and write, which is why it's a different ball of wax! But somehow, FB and twitter and the other social marketing venues just don't appeal to me. For one thing, I'm too busy and they are too rapid fire. Better suited for folks glued to their internet devices or who have lots and lots and lots of spare time. The saddest thing is how much they have replaced true human interaction and conversation.

  4. I agree Leigh - There is a great deal of thought that has to go into the most basic of posts if one is doing a blog for a long term (e.g. creating coherent thoughts day after day that are remotely interesting and engaging). The busyness of it is something I had not thought about - but you are right, it takes a great deal of time to stay "informed".

    And yes, truly sad that it has replaced the actual art of human interaction and conversation.


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