“Hello there, how do you do? My name is Mr. Facebook, I’m sure you know me. Look, do you wanna check your new notifications, perhaps scroll through interesting feeds?”
“Don’t listen to him! He is distracting you. Instead listen to me, my name is Instagram, and I’m here to instantly offer you the newest photos of your friends? Do you know that hot guy (or girl) you met last weekend down at the pub? So, go on then check it out.”
“Mate don’t listen to them; all they do is to distract you! Instead, just come here and unwind. I’ve got loads of funny and absorbing short videos tailored just for you. My name is Tik-Tok by the way.”
The More is More
So yes, indeed. We have been through this a million times before, yet we still bite the bait every now and then. But why, you may ask. Why is it that they can do this so efficiently, under the wonderful disguise of ‘something new’? We like new things, don’t we? That’s where they come into the picture, because they know what’s new can’t be boring. You never saw it before, you never thought about it before and most importantly you never experienced it before. And they know this better than you, because it is all about that famous or infamous neurotransmitter called dopamine.
Once, it was a fitness-enhancing hormone, it helped us to not just survive, but thrive throughout the ages, for instance, the fact that you are reading or listening to this blog is partly responsible for dopamine. Dopamine, the wonder hormone, helps you to stay and be motivated, to remember all the good things, to get physical and yes you guessed it, to feel pleasure (Schultz, 2002).
You see, I told you it’s one of the primary causes that made you be here alive with us. It all started when your daddy got very interested in your mommy, and he was truly motivated to get to know her better. They went out for a romantic date, and after that, he just couldn’t get her out of his mind. He was so eager and full of energy, he decided to call her out again. This time he bought her a ticket to her favourite band, so they went out partying, and on that full moon night… well, without being too explicit, pleasure happened! (Nestler & Carlezon, 2006)
So, you see, it’s all about motivation, memory, getting moving and enjoying the rewards afterwards. It is like a college; it emphasizes the hard-working and creative student and then rewards him or her with a nice little thing called a diploma. Which nowadays, apart from hanging it on your room’s wall not much you can do with it, because reality storms in under the disguise of the job market and kicks your dopamine-filled fantasy out of the window and tells you that ‘Well, boy if you want to do more, you need to learn more! So go on to the next level, incoming bachelor’s degrees, specialized master’s degrees, or why not the highest prize: a PhD. But above all, we recommend you to be a lifelong learner.’ So much for the pleasure of having a college diploma, you’ve been distracted by yearning for knowledge. (Grech, 2018)
“Hey buddy, I can see that you are totally lost in this digital world. Look, I can help you to get back to reality and be more physical. Why don’t you treat yourself? Need a new hairdryer, perhaps this new voice-controlled washing machine? How about the new 8K smart TV? Well, my name is Amazon, and I am as diverse as the rainforests from the Amazon, so come and browse me!”
“Better try your luck with me my friend! My name is Netflix and I tell you I am the one for you, because what I offer is truly captivating, enchanting and engaging. I offer you an inescapable story you won’t be able to say no, what world you like to be in? Fantasy, Sci-fi, Horror, or perhaps action or comedy? Come and see!”
The World is a Story
There you go, now you see how it works? Stories and more stories. That’s how our mind works, because we are essentially story telling mammals. (Ingold, 2011) And this is really not new, think about the past for instance. One of the biggest story-telling organization is the Vatican, open the Bible and you can imagine how people lived their lives in the past. (Callaham, 2010) Not appealing? Open your county’s constitution and read about it and there you go another book explaining stories about your presupposed and beloved nation. Not convinced yet? Think about the legislative system like Human Rights or international supranational organizations like United Nations. (Schimmel, 2019) What rights does this mammal called Homo Sapiens coming from the Eastern corner of Africa have, in what imaginary place called country and under the guidance of what illusion called God?
Now, why did I say this? Because all these stories our minds create have to do with this neurotransmitter called dopamine. ‘Miss Dopamine’ wants us to imagine and create, ask your favourite artist, he or she can tell you a thing or two about how they feel during a creative process. Some of the artists sometimes ‘help’ themselves with not-so-legal things to boost their lady Dopamine in their heads. ‘Mr. Serotonin is not very happy when the Noradrenaline ‘teenagers’ are unleashed. And because high levels of dopamine equal heightened emotional states. Such a person is easier to be manipulated than you think, they are constantly looking for satisfaction and ready to hunt for the next ecstatic state. Though I guess it’s fair to say this kind of state has two sides just like the coin in your wallet, the good side is that if it’s coupled with intelligence and good intentions, it can do wonders.
Ideally, positive institutions enables positive traits, which then in turn enables positive subjective experience. Now, certainly, people can be happy without good intentions just as they can have good intentions in the absence of positive institutions. But whatever their state is and their intention, if they lack clarity, they can and will be brainwashed and manipulated by both the extravagant and sometimes absurd players of the digital world, such as the above-mentioned players (Facebook, Twitter, Netflix etc.) (Siebers et al., 2022)and the real-world players of men in black (think politicians, economists, bankers and even university professors). Distracted, preoccupied and diverted is the way these players want you to be.
Not all of them and not all the time of course. It’s all too clear to me that YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon are good things. You watch a mini-documentary about guitar playing on YouTube, then you get in touch with professional guitar players on Facebook and the next thing you know, you have bought your very first guitar on Amazon. How’s that a bad thing? It’s not. As a guitar player myself, I wish more people would be ‘distracted’ by mini-documentaries about electric guitar, you know. But, watching an ad on YouTube about a Selfie Toaster, then connecting with Selfie Toaster lovers on Facebook and then buying them on Amazon is… well forgive me if I hurt your feelings, but it’s not very good. (MARC S. REISCH, 2014)
I’m thinking if there are whistleblowers in the schools, and in the workplace then we should have whistleblowers for businesses, for politicians and of course whistleblowers for digital giants like Facebook and YouTube and yes even for the mighty Google (who said it isn’t biased?) In an upside world tricksters make judges unfair, inventors uncreative and therapists antisocial. What a world, right? And sometimes, I do feel that in our world decency and honesty is bad business, it’s almost as if those who are truth seekers are the ones who are punished.
Clarity is Good
Ok, so finally the question is how can we learn to be less distracted?
I think knowledge and help should come from technology. How? Well, we know we have strengths and weaknesses, and within strengths we have something that Chris Peterson (Cameron, 2004) calls tonic and phasic strengths. The first ones are the ones that are on an ongoing basis, such as kindness, curiosity, zest. The second ones are the ones that are rising and falling according to the specific situations and demands, such as bravery when faced with a situation that creates fear or teamwork when faced with a problem that is common to the group. And the good thing about phasic strengths is that they can be trained, nurtured and rewarded. So, then I wonder. If we would have an application in our smartphones and laptops which is specifically designed to help with distractions or rather concentration. As an example, think of your beloved social media, so you are scrolling through it, reading everything that feeds your dopamine and then suddenly a pop-up message would come up and asking you the following questions:
- Are you sure this article/news/video/advertisement is relevant to you?
- Are you sure by reading this, it will help you to achieve your daily goals?
- Are you 100% sure that by reading/seeing/listening to this, it made you happier?
So basically, this application could screen and clock your time spent listening/watching/reading things on social media, and on the internet in general. Do you believe such an app would be annoying, every now and then popping up and questioning your time and attention on whatever you are doing? Well, think again! It’s no more annoying than those YouTube adverts popping in while you are watching a video. At least, this awareness-creating pop-ups is for good causes. Also, do you believe this app would be intrusive? Constantly checking your eye movements. Well, I say to you it would be no more intrusive than Google Chrome or Facebook, which comes with every iPhone or Android phone instantly, without asking the customer if they want them in their cell phones.
Alternatively, you can feed your distraction with something that I call ‘Love watching’… Aham, well don’t you get promiscuous here, I’m sure you are not thinking what I’m thinking! But that’s a topic for another blog.
Callaham, S. N. (2010). The Bible among the Myths: Unique Revelation or Just Ancient Literature? Bulletin for Biblical Research, 20(4). https://doi.org/10.2307/26424722
Cameron, K. S. (2004). Positive Organizational Scholarship: Foundations of a New Discipline. Personnel, 49.
Grech, V. (2018). WASP (Write a Scientific Paper): To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield. Early Human Development, 127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2018.07.010
Ingold, T. (2011). Being alive: Essays on movement, knowledge and description. In Being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description. https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203818336
MARC S. REISCH. (2014). Selfie Toaster, Camel Milk, Salmon Cannon. Chemical & Engineering News Archive, 92(36). https://doi.org/10.1021/cen-09236-newscripts
Nestler, E. J., & Carlezon, W. A. (2006). The Mesolimbic Dopamine Reward Circuit in Depression. In Biological Psychiatry(Vol. 59, Issue 12). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.09.018
Schimmel, N. (2019). Seeing the myth in human rights. International Affairs, 95(6). https://doi.org/10.1093/ia/iiz210
Schultz, W. (2002). Getting formal with dopamine and reward. In Neuron (Vol. 36, Issue 2). https://doi.org/10.1016/S0896-6273(02)00967-4
Siebers, T., Beyens, I., Pouwels, J. L., & Valkenburg, P. M. (2022). Social Media and Distraction: An Experience Sampling Study among Adolescents. Media Psychology, 25(3). https://doi.org/10.1080/15213269.2021.1959350
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