Dopamine Hits and a Dopier Me


The side-effect of Facebook is clicking on things. This works to the site’s advantage, since it’s a tool for sharing information, collating recommendations from friends that come loaded with a kind of social authority. There are interesting posts I’ve read purely because they were linked to on Facebook. Stuff I’d never find on my own, or even consider searching for it.

There are people who find their way here, most days, in much the same way.

This is one of the reasons I go to Facebook. Why it replaces my carefully curated RSS feeds, some days, when I’m feeling particularly lazy.

Yesterday I found myself hovering over a link where a poster took Australian gossip magazines to task for their portrayal of two local celebrities. An automatic reaction on my part – if there is a link, and it’s vaguely interesting, then I’m inclined to click on it. Facebook isn’t inherently interesting in and of itself; it’s at it’s best when there is conversation. Interaction. Connection with others. It cannot be consumed passively in a way that is satisfying for me.

But I have no interest in the local magazines, or the celebrities in question. I had no interest in joining the conversation. I was clicking it ’cause it was there, ’cause a conversation was happening and I didn’t want to be left out.

This bothers me about Facebook. It’s not just the things shared on my feed by friends – their advertising algorithm has become too good, able to play to my darker impulses and deliver me things I’m willing to click upon. Links that take me to content mills where a simple list-post is split over fifteen goddamn pages, each of them filled with advertising and little that’s truly worth reading.

Facebook is smarter than I am, now. The signal to noise is high. Not yet unbearable, but I can see that day coming. Facebook has become a place of habitual behaviour. It’s a place I visit because it’s a habit, more than any particular desire to be there. It’s a steady stream of little pleasures that come from connection, and snark, and Pavlovian rewards systems.

Facebook’s particular genius is reading who I am at the moment, and catering to those desires. It’s all about the little hit, the micro-reward, the dopamine economy. But my usage is dropping. Still registering in the hours of time there, every week, but it’s in the single-digits when it started in the double.

Facebook’s failure, in the end, will be the gulf that’s generated – the moments where I think, when did I become this guy? How do I stop this? 

My threshold for being the guy who clicks gets lower every week.


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