569 Comments

Brilliant. TikTok is digital opium. Down with the dopamine industrial complex!

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Yes, agree with this article. It's a big problem, but this ill is also attacking from the other direction too. At lot of people now no longer think an experience is real or valid in itself unless they can record it on their mobile phone and probably upload it to social media for social validation and attention. This is crazy. The real world isn't real enough anymore, it has to exist online instead with likes attached.

At some point tough love needs to come in to discipline this disaster. That means taking the drugs and suppliers away from the addicts and victims. That is going to be tough because they won't want that and there's a huge integrated system to keep addicts and victims in this trap

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So true, Ted. Someone asked me why I don't take my phone with me when I run. I answered that I didn't want anything to disturb me. "What if something happened to you?" he asked. "I guess I would have to use my brain," I replied with restraint and without sarcastically adding, "Duh."

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Was just talking with my friend about this exact thing. My observation: the swipe/scroll is an incredibly important aspect of this, in that it provides the illusion of agency. You still have the option to say "I don't like this, show me something else" which is enough to keep people feeling like they're in control. And if you're in control, you can quit anytime you want, right? THAT'S not addiction...

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Feb 19Β·edited Feb 19

Great piece (and I love that Rise of Dopamine Culture chart). This is why I quit all social media forever 10 years ago:

https://sassone.wordpress.com/2014/08/13/thoughts-on-social-media/

I found myself not being able to read anything longer than a short web article. It was hard to get through a long feature or a book. Your brain gets rewired by all this short content, constantly coming at you in a neverending stream. (And I would caution that Notes is like this too. It's social media, even if Substack tries to tell you it isn't.)

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Lots of interesting thoughts here.

1) I remember hearing the argument that both Sesame Street and MTV promoted this distracted culture and was heavily criticized for children’s attention span.

2) my aunt is a ballet teacher and I was surprised to hear that she does not like the really popular dance competition tv shows like dwts because they like you say only give you a snippet of the symphony instead of the whole masterpiece. I guess it cheapens it and promotes showing off.

3) I’ve also noticed that there is a lot of recycling going on in the arts and music. Most of the current top 40 songs use a former popular song in its hook. And cartoons and pop culture have always referenced the classics for laughs (think like bugs bunny).

4) I completely agree with you that these text execs should not be choosing our art and culture and should definitely be reigned in like the sacklers should have been.

5) and lastly when I went to my divorce support group over a decade ago the minister of the group recommended to us to find something beautiful each and every day. Whether it be on your daily commute or anywhere. Take a moment to look at the clouds or trees or listen to breeze. Find that something beautiful every day and take a moment to appreciate it. I find it really grounds me.

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This stack is a new follow for me. This piece just confirmed my support. Excellent framework to better understand the undercurrent of it all.

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I love this post because it's absolutetly true. I hate it because it's absolutely true. You show, perfectly, how this addiction is eating the arts and eating entertainment. I think you left one out: The News Media. The same forces turned news into an outrage pipeline, and even that is beginning to collapse into itself. I think outrage is a subset of the distraction addiction. Maybe TikTok is fentynal and Reddit is meth? Anyway, I've vowed to quit all news consumption for 40 days. I'm just a few days into it and I am beginning to notice the trees.

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My lovely wife and I work in tech and family / friends frequently ask if it's OK for their kids to use smart speakers, tablets, smartphones, AR/VR headsets, etc. Our standard response:

We know the people who create and "improve" those devices. They don't let their kids use them. So we don't know why you would let your kids use them.

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Ted

Just read your thoughtful article on the way home from a three hour play in a packed house so I’m feeling like all is not lost

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Wow wow wow. Like any great poet, Ted, you were able to verbalize what was bubbling in my thoughts while I was not plugged in :-)

Everywhere you look, that Haggard look and face in the phone. I suppose I'm lucky I'm a 1966 model and well into my adulthood before social media cropped up., Ted ... Please tell me reading substack articles doesn't count! I suppose I'm getting a dopamine hit. But I consider this more medium form journalism. Anyway I feel like I get so much out of some great minds. Historians, professors, deep thinkers. Thanks again for great insights!

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Terrifying and so true. Looks like we're seeing the reality Neil Postman envisioned back in 1984 in Amusing Ourselves to Death. Huxley was right, not Orwell β€” there's no need to burn books because people have reached catatonic levels of distraction that makes books, and any thought of creative or logical value, irrelevant.

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If this is a dopamine addiction loop, TikTok is cocaine ... and A.I. is crack (or even worse, meth). Millions of machines generating precisely what you want to see, rendering out your fantasies in pixel-perfect form. The Luddites of old are disparaged as backward-looking, short-sighted simpletons, but I think some new clogs need to be thrown in the machines. If politicians won't legislate, then can users subvert and undermine?

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I absolutely 100% agree - except for one point. I'm not sure this is new information. I might be in a filter bubble, but near as I can tell, this is common knowledge - especially among the young people I see every day. That, of course, is the definition of addiction - go to r/meth on Reddit and you see the same thing - people know this stuff is bad for them, but are they willing to do something about it? I think we're at the very beginning of understanding how an individual recovers from an addiction like this.

If I imagine myself in a state of recovery, well - you know they say the worst thing is when your whole community is addicts too. That's a relapse waiting to happen. I try to do all the right things - I'm off social media, I've resumed learning a language, started learning a musical instrument for the first time, read hard-copy books, exercise when I'm not too sick or in pain from my health issues, write, draw... But you know, I'm so bloody lonely that on bad days I can't keep myself off YouTube. If someone figures out a rehab program for this kind of thing, I think that's an idea that'll be worth a lot of money one day.

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Guy Debord called it the Spectacle. Jean Baudrillard called it the Simulacra. They were both prescient.

Chelsea Wolfe and Emma Ruth Rundle made a beautiful song called anhedonia. ( https://chelseawolfe.bandcamp.com/track/anhedonia-feat-emma-ruth-rundle ). It's a good piece of Art. That word and the notion that anhedonia is being orchestrated by a dopamine cartel need to be circulated. Unplugging is probably the best option, and the one we can all do ourselves.

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A very impressive and scary reframing of common culture. What a fabulous post! Thank you.

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