Desperately seeking Search
On average, how many times a day do we check our mobile phones?
200 times a day
To check messages, emails, make calls, use the internet or just check the time. And of course to check in and find out what is happening in our online world through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, WhatsApp etc. We are constantly looking for that little red circle that tells us we have messages or news waiting for us. Or else we are checking in to see what other people in our circle are up to.
We crave news, updates, information.
We are addicted to search.
What is going on?
We know the internet has changed how we engage with the world around us but how did we get so caught up in this constant scanning for updates and new information?
Enter the neurotransmitter dopamine.
Dopamine is associated with experiences that we find pleasurable and when it is released in our brains we experience a sense of happiness. Research (Berridge & Robinson 2004) shows us that is dopamine is also connected to, and encourages, ‘seeking behaviour; such as checking updates, emails etc. It acts as a reward for this type of searching behaviour and through repeated experience and rewards, makes our desire to constantly search become a learned habit.
Alice falling down a rabbit hole
Dopamine encourages us to look for new information. This can be traced back to our ancestors as they continually scanned the environment seeking new information; this was an important element of survival. Dopamine also rewards us for seeking out and examining new ideas. Which of course is a good thing; curiosity being an important part of being human and which allows us to learn and develop.
But sometimes this desire to continually check updates or seek out new ideas is the enemy of focus. We start looking for one thing on the internet and 2 hours later and 10 searches later were have followed link after link to arrive at a completely different topic. We are left unfocused and unfinished.
The internet is too easy a distraction and dopamine fuels our desire to be distracted.
Too much of anything can be a bad thing. Why?
- Multi-tasking is not efficient. When we multi-task our IQ drop by 10 points (temporarily) especially when we are trying to memorise sometime.
- Because we are continually searching for news (and dopamine hits) we now more than ever, get bored easily.
- Increased cognitive load e.g. too many things happening at once in your brain, is not good for your health; it can literally make you overeat.
- With the introduction of every new technology and corresponding increase in connectivity to this 24/7 online world it becomes harder and harder to switch off, to relax, to distress.
Striking a Balance
Life without the internet would be unimaginable. But for us humans, who are by nature, easily distracted (and rewarded by that distraction), we need to be careful in how we engage with the internet and new technologies. We need to cultivate and learn better more positive habits when engaging with technology.
Some strategies for creating a positive habits with technology.
- Buy an alarm clock instead of using your phone
- Don’t read your emails first thing in morning
- Switch off technology (computer, phone, ipad) at least 30 mins before you go to bed. Exposure to LED screens on these devices can disrupt quality of sleep
- Turn of preview of email (distracting)
- Take regular break from computer screens; stretch, get a cup coffee or go for walk
- Take time to for relaxation throughout the day like a couple of mindful minutes on a park break during lunch
- Have technology free areas (kitchen/bedroom) in your house. DON’T put you mobile phone on the table when you sit down to have dinner with someone.
- Buy a watch
And if you adopt some of these habits, you may end up looking at your phone just 100 times a day.
Kent C. Berridge and Terry E. Robinson, What is the role of dopamine in reward: hedonic impact, reward
learning, or incentive salience?: Brain Research Reviews 28 1998. 309–369.
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