In a Hacker News thread about gambling, I came across this comment by user noname123:
Like slot machines that pump random awards and chance into slot user, I feel the surge of social approval and dopamine rush too when I get a Reddit upvote, a Facebook Like, IG comment, Tumblr reblog etc.
Also like how gambling addicts get into a “zombie flow-state” when they’re one with the machine, I feel the same way scrolling through pages after pages of Hacker News/Reddit/NYTimes/ESPN/YouTube popular channels. The thrill is gone, but the mechanics of pulling the slots pulley is embedded in my brain, watching one more YouTube video of a political pundit railing about the election, one more reaction video about a Internet meme, sometimes even re-watching video’s like re-watching music lyrics video to relive the laughter, that feeling — and only in the middle of the video wondering how I got there, like sometimes driving to a destination other than your work office but your brain goes on autopilot and takes the other turn to your office; and you don’t realize it until you’re there.
Also like how casino’s are a very anonymous and comforting place to addicts, I feel very safe and comfortable in hanging out with like-minded individuals on online forums whom I only know a vague outline of, but whose weariness and anonymity like mine are just as addicted and plugged into the zombie human-machine interface; I feel intuned and comfortable with. Like the anti-social meme’s (“Ez game, Ez lyfe”) on online games, alt-right memes on some Subreddits (Pepe memes, Trump is a racist) and IT memes on HN (for Elon Musk’s new Tesla model, against Holmes’ Theranos, for Peter Thiel’s Fellowship, against Peter Thiel’s endorsements, employees vs. funders), I commiserate with the anger and rage; and the identification of these online communities, just to feel like I am a part of something and also to direct my emotions to have some kind of drama & risk in my otherwise sterile electronic life; sometimes I feel I feel simultaneous the negative emotions and positive identifications on both sides of the argument.
I guess at least my addiction isn’t too bad given I’m only losing on my account balance of time and attention although that feeling of coming out of a six hours bender on the net trying to find the perfect co-working space in my city, debating through all the Yelp/CityData threads for the pro’s and con’s, feels eerily like coming out a casino sliding doors to bright sunlight at 8AM after a 18hr binge at the blackjack table; somehow in the back of your mind, you already accepted that you’ll be economically bankrupt in exchange for a chase for an emotional high — almost a spiritual transcendence, but somehow you wound up just feeling morally bankrupt.
I want to pull out one line in particular: “[I do it] just to feel like I am a part of something and also to direct my emotions to have some kind of drama & risk in my otherwise sterile electronic life”.
I recognize myself in that line, since I closely follow any conflict in the subcultures I pay attention to. Drama is intoxicating. I hate being part of social conflicts, but I’m a dedicated voyeur.
In a way I relate to all of noname123’s experience, since I spend a substantial portion of every day online. I work online. I have online hobbies. I compulsively check Twitter. Sometimes I open a new tab and start typing the address of the website that I just closed in the URL bar.
But it doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers this person. I wonder why that is. Because I have a partner? Because I don’t spend literally all of my waking hours at the computer? Because I have pets? Or is it just some kind of genetic temperament thing?
Certainly people with partners and pets are susceptible to addiction, so that’s probably not the significant variable. Besides, maybe noname123 is happily married with eight children. (I doubt that, but it’s possible.)
Personally, I do worry about my productivity. But I’m not sure how much more productive I’d be if my work were spatially separated from my play. Creative thinking requires a lot of rebound time, if you know what I mean, or at least it does for me. Ideas require time and stimulation to bubble up to the surface.
I know a lot of you work online too, in one capacity or another. Is this a problem for you? How do you deal with?
Header photo by jayneandd.