It may be the great paradox of 2018. We have endless information at our fingertips but little time to distil it, let alone ruminate on it. While 24 hours remain in a day, most are filled with competing demands arriving in the form of notifications. Distraction due to hyper connectivity is the new normal. We’re switching screens almost as quickly as we flit between tasks in a bid to remain hyper-vigilant and ultra-productive. While we may naively believe a social media “like” is deepening our connection to others, or by downloading the latest app we are staying informed, the rising rate of productivity listicles is a reminder the new system is failing us. There is a bigger picture at play. Our devices are now tools providing instant gratification thanks to a retweet, a new follower, or a Tinder right swipe – a habit which, psychologists believe, is rewiring our neurological pathways in a similar way to drug addiction.
Professor Larry Rosen, of California State University, has researched the subject extensively for the book he co-authored, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High Tech World. Rosen believes the buzz we receive from our devices triggers the brain to release dopamine – a neurotransmitter that pleasures our reward centre – in the same way as drinking alcohol or taking recreational drugs. “[Tech companies] use all the tools in the behaviourism handbook to first provide major positive reinforcements to develop the behaviour of checking in, and then dole out those reinforcements on a variable schedule to maintain them,” Rosen says. “This is the most powerful way to develop behaviour.”
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