Why Dopamine Makes Me Obsessed With Twitter

Running on the internet treadmill, addicted to dopamineIn the last year I’ve become a heavy user of Twitter, as you can see from the sidebar with my regular Tweets. While it’s been great fun it’s also been a serious drain on my time and resources. I can lose half a day following links and Twittering and reading what other people have said. I put off doing real work because I’m frittering away my time, amusing myself, finding new things that I plan to blog about and never do.

Now there’s some official research to explain why I’m doing this. An article in Slate discusses research into the way dopamine causes us to continually seek things.


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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? Thank dopamine. Our internal sense of time is believed to be controlled by the dopamine system. People with hyperactivity disorder have a shortage of dopamine in their brains, which a recent study suggests may be at the root of the problem. For them even small stretches of time seem to drag. An article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic last year, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. Like the lab rats, we keep hitting “enter” to get our next fix.

Yep, that’s me. It’s actually been troubling me for some time that my attention span has become so short. I typically have about 16 tabs open in Firefox plus numerous programs on my desktop. I can be “officially” doing three or four things at once but in reality I’m not getting anything done. Instead I’m flitting around from one thing to the next.

I feel like this behaviour began way back when on I was on dialup; research used to take so long to come up that I’d need to do a few things at once to be efficient. It can happen now when I’m rendering movies. But that’s not a good enough excuse anymore. Now I really have to work hard to pay attention to do one thing for a long period of time. I keep wanting to check what’s new on Facebook, on Twitter, to quickly look up a fact on Google, to have a look at traffic stats, to watch a quick video on Youtube…

There’s a state of consciousness called “flow” when we become so engrossed in something that we forget all sense of time or where we are. When you are working in a state of flow, life is beautiful. You can get that story written, that movie edited, that design done, that website finished. But my brain doesn’t seem as willing to get into that state anymore. It’s always seeking, seeking, seeking. The dopamine is messing with me.

Religious nuts and Luddite panic merchants love to talk about the idea of “porn addiction” or “internet addiction” without having any research to back it up. Well, finally here’s something that scientifically discusses the idea of “addiction” in a rational manner. And, by the looks of it the subject matter isn’t the problem. It’s the simple human need to find new information and enjoy different experiences. Thus, there is as much danger from “recipe addiction” as there is from “porn addiction.” If you let the dopamine spur you on, things can get out of balance.

My grandmother had a saying: “Everything in moderation.” It’s something I try to live my life by. And now I need to apply it to Twitter and Facebook and all those other distractions.

Pic is from the Slate article, sums things up rather nicely.