‘‘I have absolutely no pleasure in the stimulants in which I sometimes so madly indulge. It has not been in the pursuit of pleasure. It has been the desperate attempt to escape from torturing memories, from a sense of insupportable loneliness and a dread of some strange impending doom.’’ — Edgar Allen Poe
Poe in this quote speaks to the very nature of addiction, but what is important to understand is that our judgments surrounding what constitutes addiction and what does not has little bearing on its truths. People generally think of addiction as having a basis in substance abuse, gambling, or sex. Addiction tends to only become relevant when addictive behaviors have a taboo quality to them, however it is the publicly sanctioned addictions that are most dangerous and serve to erode our sense of self while giving us the illusion that we have control over our lives.
Addiction is not something that is based on will power or flaws in a person’s personality. Addiction is based on whether the dopamine receptors in your brain are functioning as they should. When you do something that brings you reward, it is dopamine that causes you to feel rewarded. For the pigeons pecking and the gamblers playing the slots in the video, there is dopamine release with each delivery of food and every cash reward. This is the nature of addiction.
When I see people constantly checking their phones, I see pigeons and casinos. I see the same thing when people form unhealthy relationships but can’t seem to extricate themselves from them. I see this when people are “die hard” sports fans and take their team’s losses way too seriously. I include myself in all of these observations by the way.
We peck all day long. Like the pigeons in the video, we peck on our phones, our computers, and our remotes. We wait for the dopamine release that brings us calm, and call it downtime. Of course we are not addicted to these things. They are simply pleasures that help us unwind. This may be true, but take a moment to ask yourself this question:
How would you feel if you went 30 days without television, a computer, or a phone?
Now that you can readily see you are an addict, you will begin to rationalize your behavior like all addicts do.
You need your phone—how would people get in touch with you in an emergency? You need it for work too, you have to support yourself and or your family. If you didn’t watch TV, what would you do instead? Everybody watches TV. Plus, watching your sports/shows is important to you. It’s your tiny indulgence and it’s great for unwinding. You can’t really get along without a computer either, everything is digital.
All of this may be true, but the fact that you feel that you can’t do without these things is how you are manipulated and controlled. Like Skinner implied in the video, people can think they have control over their lives, but they really don’t. Advertisers, politicians, and lobbyists only exist for the purpose of manipulating your thinking in this exact manner. As long as you are clicking away, they will continue to administer your dopamine for you.
Turn. Peck. Feed.