The Rat Pushes the Button

Leah Libresco has a post about monitoring her “addictions” during Lent: the activities that seem to suck up her time, to verify that they value actual value and aren’t simply sucking her into a dopamine loop. I was reminded of experiments I’ve read about, done on rats.

Put a rat in a cage with a button. If the rat pushes the button, he gets food. Rats given this option often keep pushing the button. But if you make it so that the button only sometimes provides food, the rats push the button even more often. The occasional reward becomes even more of a compulsion.

Some games remind me of this (everyone remember Farmville?); but even more than that, Facebook reminds me of this. How often do I click that link on my bookmark bar that brings up Facebook, in the hope that somebody I know has “likes” something I’ve written, or has capped some witty remark that I’ve made? It’s the same thing as the rat. The rat gets food, sometimes; I get ego gratification sometimes. And it truly is, in some sense, addicting.

I came back to Facebook after a long absence as a way of keeping up with the other Patheos bloggers; and for that it has been very good and a real blessing. But I find that over the last few months I’ve been spending way too much time looking at it, and that it’s distracting me from other things. I’m having trouble focussing on a book, or a conversation, or a train of thought for long; I keep wanting to go press the button and see what’s new. I’m spending more time looking at links, but less time actually reading the linked blog posts. I’m becoming scattered, distracted, and superficial.

Ugh. This is very much not good.

I’m not sure what steps I’m going to take; but it’s clear that Facebook is a good servant but a poor master. I’ve got to learn to keep it in its place.

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