Image credit: Getty Images, Craig P. Jewell/Flickr
Turns out there might be a biological imperative to explain our addiction to information that leads us to obsessively check our Facebook profiles for updates and inexplicably lose hours at a time searching for obscure bits of information on Google. Scientists refer to this desire as seeking or wanting, a practice that affects the dopamine centers of our brains and causes us to chase the potential reward just around the corner rather than settle for the tangible one right in front of us. This quest for what might be, creates a seemingly infinite feedback loop where consumption continuously renews the appetite.
Slate explains how this idea is fueled by our culture of increasing immediacy and mobility, where small cues that some new piece of data might be coming – a buzz before a text message or a bell prompting a new email – make the prospect even more enticing:
Since we’re restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away.
And while we may be predisposed to rely on a constant stream of information, apparently not all bits are created equal. Apparently, our brains tend to crave a degree of what is personal and local, which is to say, more of what we already know. An idea that contrasts with the ideal of individual as information omnivore, constantly seeking out all perspectives on a particular subject, even if they’re different from their own.
A fact that if true, goes a long way towards explaining the effectiveness of the so-called politics of disinformation being perpetrated throughout the media and why cutting through that can be so problematic. Perhaps, this is why comedy as an antidote works better than appealing to flat out reason, the underlying perspective is delivered in a novel way.
This idea of relevancy in our insatiable quest for information also has implications for the future of the internet, supporting the theory of the “social web” as the next evolution online. If all of our information is eventually filtered through our network of contacts and friends, then it has the potential to further notions of connectedness and pertinence on one hand, while simultaneously widening the gulf between divergent points of view. An interesting paradox for the digital age, particularly in the face of our shrinking, global world.