Our Conditioned Responsiveness
It’s a Dilemma, Truly
We’d wanted to for a while, but alas, were not yet members of the Netflix elite. Our entertainment diet usually consists of a strict regimen of Pixar, Disney+, Pixar, and time permitting, Pixar. We are after all parents to two children. "Children" is Latin for Unsympatheticly Over-demanding Juvenile Taskmasters Who Scream To Get Their Way And To Whom We Relent Because Please God Stop The Screaming. So on the occasional fortnight where they actually fall asleep before 2am and my wife and I can enjoy a good documentary, we have to have it all planned out ahead of time, or it’s another steamy romantic night of not talking to each other and slipping into mutual oblivion, the popcorn bowl spilling out into our dog’s ecstatic maw.
This time, we chose the hit documentary about social media addiction. We celebrated our blissful marriage by watching it while flicking through our respective Facebook news feeds and, again, not talking to each other. But, to keep the love alive, we made sure to throw the occasional “Wow, totally” at our spouse in response to some proffered revelation from the video. Then we returned to flicking.
As a man who has fingers, I found it fascinating that I too was an unwitting slave to all of these networks whose goal it is to watch my every move and plot my undoing through ritual bombardment of ads, ads, and more ads. I found, much to my chagrin, that my fingers were not in fact my own, but that they were rather unwittingly bound to flicking, scrolling, checking, refreshing, and clicking. I really had no choice in the matter – or so the documentary would have me believe.
Now I know what you’re saying: “I want a Schnauzer with my Weiner schnitzel.” And I would understand you: you’re hungry, and Schnauzers are a delicacy. So once you’re back with a hot steaming plate to satisfy your innards, consider this alternate phrase that I suspect you may also be uttering: “How can I possibly untether from my social media accounts and thus be trapped in 1937 forever?” It's a conundrum, I grant you. The only greater conundrum than this conundrum is why is conundrum such a fantastically intriguing conundrum of a word?
Studies will reveal that I receive dopamine hits:
- Each time I realize there is a new red badge awaiting me from some app on the other side of my smartphone glass
- With every instance of every ping of every app
- Whenever someone likes, comments, shares, upvotes, friend requests, connects, or follows me.
- When my wife makes Macaroni with Aidell's sausage. #truestory
Believe me, that third one is uncontestable. I think I now have more followers on Instagram than Jesus had in his first year of ministry, and each new follower makes me giddy as they partake of my own Sermons on my own Mount.
Pardon me while I enjoy my dopamine hit.
I have returned.
It’s true, and the phenomenon is real. Every time we’re pinged with some new attention-sucking siren call, it’s a pleasurable torment. If you are anything like me – and let us pray that you are entirely not, because the world does not have the capacity for double this much awesome – then you have, at least once, placed your phone on its charging cradle next to your bed at lights out….only to check it less than a minute later. Granted, you were probably bidding on that gold-plated Squatty Potty on eBay, and you wanted to make sure no one outbid you. Once more, I would understand you.
But if we’re ever going to remain sane, is it possible to untether? And if a successful online career is tied to being active on social media – and it is – is it even realistic to expect that we take a break?
Down for the Count
He was desperately trying to get my attention. I don’t remember what for, but it was something probably along the lines of a Pteranodon who was carrying off Optimus Prime back to its babies to eat them, and that’s when the UFO comes in and incinerates everything and turns it all into silly putty while Medusa looks on approvingly.
My 5-year-old has a very active imagination. He is incredibly creative with toys, and in his little mind, he stages all kinds of fantasy scenarios with an energy level that would rival those fuel rods in thermonuclear reactors. Geiger counters are acutely aware of him. It’s frighteningly delightful, because you just never know when he will detonate. But detonate he would, at the unfortunate instance that I wasn’t paying him enough attention.
You see, Brennan wants me to watch nearly everything he does. I try to communicate to him that my sophomore driving instructor Mr. Filbert always told me to keep my eyes on the road. But it’s very hard resisting the gravitational pull of a 5-year-old yelling “Watch! Watch, Dada, watch! Watch! Dada, WATCH!!!!”
If I do not in fact watch, then my son detonates. If I do watch, then my entire car and all four of us detonate in a fiery collision. It is at this crossroads of conundrum (hey! Great word!) that I decide that my 5-year-old is expendable. I learned this while recently watching Star Trek II when Spock says to Kirk, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one.” A small tear rolls down my cheek as I send Brennan off to thermonuclear oblivion. But it’s just then that I remember that I have Tree Top fruit snacks, which usually defuse any high-stress situation with him. Detonation averted.
But one time, I would not get away so easily. I was at home, scrolling through whatever, deeply engrossed in my hunt for nothing. Brennan had patiently lodged about 47 requests for me to watch, and for some reason was now growing impatient that I had not attended to him yet. (Brennan can be very unreasonable.) Apparently “Uh-huh, wow, that’s neat, Bren!” only works three times consecutively, and he wasn’t having any of it. He said “NO, Dada. Watch NOW.” And then he sighed heavily and continued firmly, “5… 4… 3… 2… 1…”
Being that I was skilled in reverse counting and frequently employed it on him, I knew where this was going. My preschooler just countdowned my ass.
Well, I realized my foolishness, and chuckled at his ingenuity. I paid him the attention that he deserved, and all was well again. Whatever it was – something about a Pteranodon and Optimus Prime I think – I now think back with regret about how immersed I was in my phone, caught up in the eternal time-suck that is Apple News… or email… or Facebook… or whatever, and how not caught up in my son I was. My precious 5-year-old who loves me and needs me and depends on me and makes me spend far too much money on Transformers and dinosaurs.
And when he was done with this eternally important spectacle with bearings on the entire cosmos, he returned to his normal routine, which consists of looking at me quizzically as if to say “Are you still here?”
We so easily get sidelined by our interests, caught in a tractor beam of our phones and tablets. It’s no conundrum (What a great word!) that our phones are all made so beautifully anymore: they call to us. They pine for attention, without even pining.
But there has to be something better, and I’m not even talking about going back to a can and string.
Gimme my Dopamine I gotta have my Dopamine just need the fix man just gimme my Dopamine I need my fix
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then I count you among the smartest people on earth. And you may have gobbled up my previous blog entitled “Stars, Listens & Likes, Oh My!” It’s a darned good blog, if I do say so my darned self.
We crave validation. We crave affirmation. Likes, thumbs-up, stars, reviews, etc.. It’s the same dopamine hit. It’s the conditioned response of Pavlov’s dog. We know that if we receive any kind of:
- feedback on our audition
- response to our marketing email
- casting notice audition reply
- review from a previous job
- offers to work for an endless supply of Bottle Caps candy
…then we’ll receive that dopamine hit there as well. Maybe it's just me on the Bottle Caps one.
We associate response with pleasure. And that pleasure, in the voiceover world, is borderline orgasmic. For myself, I receive a huge hit of dopamine when someone emails me indicating a desire to award me the job. It’s amazingly satisfying. And so, when I send out an audition, any kind of response to that audition, is pleasure – even when it’s them courteously informing me that they foolishly cast someone else. I hold no ill will! But I do have a son who owns a Pteranodon, so their time will come.
It's like an alternate reality: much like "reality TV." It's not really reality, I think we all know that. Rather, it's manufactured drama. Same with getting sucked into your phone. It's not reality.
So I propose a two-day fast from our phones. I propose no phones at the table. Get the Calm app and actually use it.
Is all this possible? It is. It is likely? No. But we all seriously need to untether. We need to get out and breathe and get some exercise. I know this last one is true because I still need to make sure my last will and testament is up-to-date before I attempt to bend over and put on my socks each morning. I need to get into better shape. I am not talking about a parallelogram. I’m talking about being utterly healthy. That includes being less addicted to my notifications.
But in the meantime, until I change my ways, keep those red badges a'comin'.
Now if you will excuse me, I must place a higher bid on eBay for that Squatty Potty, because seeing the face you make when you're outbid gives me a nice dopamine rush.
NOTE: This blog is purely for commentary / educational / entertainment purposes. I make no money from these blogs; though I do not refuse large cash gifts if it means I can pretend I'm a church.
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