July 26, 2023

The Acceptable Addiction

CBA to read?

Smoking, sniffing, scrolling. Why is it so acceptable to be addicted to our phones?

If you’ve been on social media recently you’ve heard the term dopamine thrown around by doctors, podcasters, and pseudo-scientists alike. Even if you have a rough understanding of what this molecule is, you likely underestimate just how big of a role it plays in almost every moment of your life. So what is dopamine?

Simply put, it’s the neurotransmitter (a class of molecules/atoms that controls the operations of neurons) which is responsible for allowing you to be motivated, feel pleasure and satisfaction. It does all of this whilst also acting as a hormone in your hypothalamus and adrenal gland. All of this packaged together means this little molecule is involved in, movement, mood, memory, attention among others!

All this action happens in a space 952,650 times smaller than a penny, as neurons release dopamine to each other. These microscopic interactions are where all those positive emotions come from, we’re hard-wired to seek things out that have our brains pumping dopamine. These tiny molecules tell you to eat, sleep, and move! Without them we’d just be in bed all day staring at a screen…

And there lies the issue, this little molecule’s addictive nature paired with this digital age produces the very outcome it evolved to avoid. First, it was movies on large box TVs, which transitioned into shows, then Youtube dominated the entertainment market, until now where Tik Tok is king with Youtube and Facebook creating similar platforms to compete. Content is becoming shorter and shorter, with dynamic and quick cuts becoming more and more popular. And the reason behind all of these shifts comes from dopamine. Each time you watch a video your brain is flooded with it, and the shorter the content the shorter the time between each release.

Your brain has evolved to want dopamine; it's the mechanism that has us replicate certain actions. You want to keep scrolling because your brain wants you to keep scrolling. And that's where the addictive nature of this short content lies, and big tech companies like Tik Tok understand this. They also understand its negative effects, and that is why the Chinese version of Tik Tok, Douyin, only allows 40 minutes of use time and access to the platform from 10pm to 6am.

You may have not felt the difference but studies have shown that from 2004-2016 the average adult attention span went from 2 ½ minutes down to 47 seconds, and that was even before this new age of 7 second content. Your brain has no way of differentiating between real and digital interactions and the negative effects on brain health are evident, but it not only personally affects you but Earth and its climate in general.

Just one minute on Tik Tok generates 2.63g of CO2. This number may be small but keeping in mind that Tik Tok was measured to have 1 billion monthly users in 2021 with projections to go higher, that small number becomes enormous. Using the global average screen time on the app, 52 minutes, and the assumption that 250 million people have that screen time daily, Tik Tok generates 34,190 tonnes of CO2 a day and more than 12 million tonnes in a year! And this is just one app, imagine the carbon generated when combined with YouTube, Instagram, and others.

Next time you find yourself scrolling mindlessly, try just going on a walk with friends, family, or a pet instead! Your brain, body, and planet are sure to be grateful.


we know you want to 👀