You click on a button on your iPhone and it immediately bursts into life, the blinking “slide to unlock” label hinting at the direction of the motion it wants you to make. That rich, lively screen just begs for your attention. Add to that the layer of notifications and you have no willpower left to resist. No matter what’s happening around you: a kid wanting to play with you, a book waiting to be read, a view that wants to be soaked in – once the iPhone wakes up, everything else in the room disappears; your attention’s been stolen by that burst of light. The iPhone (and the iPad, for that matter) is a needy, attention-craving siren that will enslave your attention by it’s amazing beauty at the expense of the world around you. It’s a temptress that constantly reminds you: “You could be on Twitter now” or “You could engage with your friends on Facebook now.”
The Dopamine release
When you check your information, when you get a buzz in your pocket, when you get a ring – you get what they call a dopamine squirt. You get this little rush of adrenaline and, most of the time, you are disappointed. Sure, you get this little information nuggets, the location of your friends, the links they share, the inconsequential email but it’s doesn’t satisfy your craving for more. But when you don’t get this little alarms, you feel bored, you want that little excitement. You’re being conditioned by technology to check, check, check and check.
Information is like food. It nourishes us and we need it to survive in the 21st technology, to be a productive citizen. Yet, food has positives and negatives. As Fast Food Nation clearly showcased, a steady diet of fast food won’t lead to any good. Actually, it might lead to your quick demise. While we know to distinguish between Twinkies and Muesli, we still have trouble distinguishing between information red meat and information red grain.
The diminishing returns of noisy technology
Over time, we have created our information foundation: Email, Facebook, Twitter, Messageboards, Foursquare and other platforms that solve problems for each individual. We don’t have a lot of attention left in our life to add more information and platforms. Apps and destinations became more noisy to get our attention. Just like a gathering that started out as a small dinner party, developed into a party with loud music and now looks like this:
(Talking about Dopamine.) You can enjoy a rave for a few hours, maybe even all night and a nice sunrise. But it’s not a sustainable model. We can’t continue to add new technologies and new platforms, begging us for information constantly without hitting the wall. I would argue, we’ve already reached that wall and we’re about to hit it.
Nobody is saying noisy technologies will disappear. It’s just too intriguing and easy to blink, flash and beep to get the attention of people. But the returns are diminishing and people are starting to look for technologies that solve problems with out being a needy temptress.
In Part 3 we’ll talk about the emergency of calm technologies and their integration into the information ecosystem.