Currently, our generation is accustomed to being instantly gratified. If you want to purchase clothing, shop online. If you bought coffee or saw a cute dog on campus, take a picture and post it on snapchat. If you are bored and need to be entertained, log-in to Netflix and watch 5 episodes. If you want to meet a special someone, swipe right on tinder. Although technology allows people to interact and share messages, there are some negative consequences. What makes our generation so attached to our phone? Why do we feel the need to always be connected?
Our bodies have developed an addiction to technology. This can be attributed to the release of dopamine that accompanies technology use. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that facilitates the process of sending messages from one cell to another. When dopamine is released from one cell, it crosses the synapse (space between two cells) and binds to the receptors on the membrane of the next cell. By binding to the receptors, the message is transmitted. Dopamine is correlated to needs and desires, as well as drive, sexual urge, and cognition. It’s an essential factor in satisfaction. Social media randomly rewards its users with notifications which promotes the release of dopamine and enables users to enjoy this psychological satisfaction. On Instagram, users receive notifications every time someone likes and comments on their photos, as well as when other people comment on photos they have commented on. At the same time, Facebook is another platform in which people can communicate. Facebook reminds people of memories of pictures posted that day years ago or how long ago two people became friends on the website among several other features. All of these rewards releases dopamine and contributes to the prevalence of technology in our lives.
Typically, people receive notifications randomly at different times of the day from different social media sources. This random schedule of rewards releases dopamine in the brain and causes the users to compulsively check social media as they are never certain when they will be rewarded. Technology companies purposefully use this random reward system to their benefit to ensure that people are constantly checking their phone. Some mobile applications purposefully make their reward system random to entice their users to constantly use their app. For instance, the company Fitbit creates watches that people can wear throughout the day. Once the person has walked 10,000 steps, they are notified. Since the person is notified at different times of the day, it causes them to constantly be wearing their watch and walking. This entices them to work out and be active, while also using their watch and app on their phone. A running app company says that people are 30% more likely to go for a run if they are using their app. Furthermore, a microloan company says that 14% of people are more likely to pay their loans on time when using an app.
Evidently, just like drugs, technology holds the ability to change one’s behavior. Drugs substantially increase the amount of dopamine released and over stimulates the person. For this reason, people become addicted to drugs. An addict is a person who is psychologically or physically dependent or devoted to a habit or substance. It is uncertain whether people currently can become addicted to technology. Similar to drugs, the more people use technology, the less likely they will stop. One the reward it met, it becomes habit. For this reason the combination of technology and dopamine is sometimes referred to as our “digital heroin.” Thus, technology holds the potential to change human behavior. However, the vehicle of technology to do so can be deemed unethical and controversial.
It is imperative to recognize that dopamine does not cause addictions, but rather is related to motivation. However, if used incorrectly, it could have potential dangerous effects. For this reason, technology should be used as a platform for communication. We must be aware of the negative effects of technology and know how to use it wisely. For this reason, distance the dependence you have on your phone or turn off your notifications at night.