Tuesday, July 26, 2011

It's biology's fault

So, in an effort (a clearly failing effort) to actually get some work done, I've made use of a program that prevents me from getting onto facebook. Now, I've used programs like this in the past that give one the ability to lock oneself out of facebook, but they've had the fatal flaw of making it possible, with just a few clicks, to easily gain access again. Clearly the people who find those programs helpful either have vastly more will-power than I do or they are just not all that bright.

Anyway, this new program is such that once you've set the timer (which unfortunately maxes out at 24 hours) you can't access the pages you've 'blacklisted' and you get do anything (aside from get onto a new computer) that will give you access. You can delete the program from your computer and you'll still be locked out. I suppose if I knew more about computer code I could undo it, but here's where my general laziness kicks in and my willpower is subsumed by my unwillingness to exert the effort. Yes, any success I've had is due to a strange and lucky confluence of my flaws.

What I'm really trying to avoid are the damn games on facebook. I can get sucked in and play the stupidest of games for hours at a time and then, not only have I wasted hours of my time doing something that isn't in the least bit worthy of my time, but I also then feel horrible for having wasted my time in this way.

A brief tangent: one of the most memorable articles from the NYTimes Magazine is this one on slot machines and how they are designed to maximize the amount of time (and, thus, money) one spends on them. It was written back in 2004 but it is one that I'm frequently thinking about.

So, onto biology. What is going on that I (and lots of other smart folks) will spend loads of time on seriously mind numbingly dumb on-line 'games' (I say 'games' because things like Farmville are not in the least games except in the sense that flipping a coin is a game — they take no skill or thought, just lots and lots of time)? Yes, we get a jolt of some sort of hormone that makes us feel good when we do it but why do we get a jolt doing this instead of a jolt for looking at a wall?

I think it's because we, being the social creatures we are, love interaction and love being causes of something. Have a museum exhibit that has a page of text to read and some folks will read it. Have the same exhibit that requires folks to push a button to make the text visible and I'm guessing more people will read it.

I think that these games suck us in because we are causing something to happen by clicking on a particular button. We like interaction. We are not, in our biological/neurological/genetic makeup, solitary beings. So, when given the chance between reading or writing, we (and by 'we' I mean 'me and I suspect you') opt for doing that which gives us an immediate result. The immediate evidence of our ability to cause something in the world.

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