Facebook has been all over the business section of the New York Times this week, mostly for their stock diving to new lows after the company’s first financial report after going public. The stock started trading in May at $38. Now, just two months later, it has plummeted to $24 a share, losing more than a third of its total value. When money gets tight, a company generally focuses on calming down those losses any way possible and bringing new profits to the company any way possible…which makes other Facebook news that much more troubling.
Stuart Crabb, in charge of learning and development at Facebook, recently told users to put down their devices and log off once in a while, saying, “If you put a frog in cold water and slowly turn up the heat, it’ll boil.” Boiling frog nonsense aside, we are all getting addicted to the Internet. Hard scientific evidence doesn’t exist quite yet, but the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders intends to include “internet use disorder” in next year’s edition. The idea is that basically when you cruise the Internet aimlessly or play Words with Friends, the action releases dopamine in your brain, a neurochemical generally released when you are doing something enjoyable. Eventually your brain ties dopamine release to these time wasting activities and craves them. I’ve felt the effects first hand and still struggle to trim hours/wk off of my Angry Birds addiction.
Most higher ups in Silicon Valley know what’s up with their products and services, and acknowledge their effects, putting on conferences and issuing warnings to users through the media, but some still refuse to accept blame. Lets take Zynga, creators of Farmville, without exaggeration one of the most mind numbing games out there. The folks at Zynga acknowledge that their games are responsible for addicting many people to dopamine, but they brush off blame. Apparently Silicon Valley is no more responsible for providing folks with an easy dopamine fix than fast food restaurants for making food with such a wide appeal. People already want dopamine, so they give it to them. That’s an amazing analogy, Zynga, because McDonald’s is, in fact, considerably responsible for making America obese. Sometimes telling a person that something is bad for you is not enough. If a poster has calorie contents on a tiny corner of a huge doctored picture of a delicious burger, I am still going to eat that burger. We as a generation need to make the decision to walk into the McDonald’s a few less times a month.
In the same sense, we need to make a decision to rely a little less on the Internet for everything, in this case finding that calm and happy place. The fast food industry is regulated, but our most important weapon against its contribution to obesity is knowledge about what it does. With that, we have a bit more ammunition to convince ourselves not to eat that value meal. In the same sense, we are becoming more aware of the effects of Internet addiction. As more studies are completed, we will have more convincing reasons to chill out on Angry Birds. For now, lets just try to get our dopamine elsewhere from time to time. Work on some activities. Maybe go to a baseball game. Or play the drums. Or read a comic book. Or go for a run by the river. Or paint something. Don’t let your brain get fat!