I heard a story about an Irish emigré out in Dubai. Our guy had a nice job, a flush apartment and air-con. Food was deliverooed to the door each night, entertainment online, streamed and plentiful. Contact with the outside world siloed in WhatsApp and Facebook.
He left his apartment only for the salary. His Irish world changed little except for the 40 degree heat and physical distance from friends and family. He travelled 3,000 miles but his atomised life stayed floating in the cloud.
We all do it. Plug in our earphones, scroll our feeds, tap into the tributaries of our bespoke world. Mostly we are unaware of the chambers we dive into, seeking worthy respite from the commute, the boss, the noise. Our lives have become technologically integrated. Everything a click away. cash transactions that once grounded us to main street are replaced by tap and go. Like the supply chains that compounded an industrial revolution, We too are now fully vertically integrated consumers.
Our ability to immerse ourselves in community is no longer automatic, but must compete with the dopamine effect, a hacking of our minds by video games, apps and other sources of instant gratification. We have built a virtual world within the real one that allows us to walk freely within it, but pulls us away from communing with real life.
The knock-on effects are obvious. In Japan an entire generation of young men, the Hikkomori, do not leave their homes for school, work or fun. Social anxiety and depression fostered by a culture of exclusively living online. Japan has the lowest birth rate in the world, which fell by 6.9% last year. Men removed from a mainstream life of family, community, and work.
The big city anonymity that has always been dominant is now being doubled down on with the growth of our virtual worlds. We walk amongst each other, but our shared experiences are within echo chambers with people who share our views, our background, and bang out dopamine hits all night.
“Tech companies understand what causes dopamine surges in the brain and they lace their products with ‘hijacking techniques’ that lure us in and create ‘compulsion loops’.”
David Brooks, New York Times
The human mind can fight these artificial rewards pushed by big tech in a natural way. There is a growing movement of people who are attempting to grow out of these systems and become more self-determinant, adopting old-school values to harness the reward system for what it was originally intended for, things which was normal 20 years ago. Face-to-face contact, exercise, delayed gratification can all rebuild the network.
Change comes from within. Always.