Thursday, November 27, 2008

No Addictions Here

The "Fast Company" web site has an interview with neuroscientist Sam Wang about the addictive nature of email.

Interviewer: We live in a world of interruptions from email, PDAs, cellphones, computers and so on. What are the big challenges to brain performance with all this gadgetry?

Wang: One problem with these interruptions is they’re rewarding us the way a social interaction is rewarding. It’s thought that whenever a small rewarding event happens, our brains release little bit of dopamine, which is a signal that something interesting is happening. Email is a social reward that’s distilled into this thing that pops onto your screen. It’s quite literally a little bit like crack. As a result, there’s sort of this addictive quality to email. One piece of advice that I’ve been toying with is to use email as a reward for finishing a task, as opposed to letting it sit on your desk all the time.

I remember when email was rewarding. And I remember when Instant Messages were rewarding. I even remember being excited about somebody calling my desk phone. But now email for me is primarily a drain. Nobody emails just to say hello or tell me about themselves. People don't IM just to say hello, or call just to chat. Family, church folks, and clients and co-workers contact me for one reason: to ask me to do work for them.

It's great to have a job, and to be asked to help. I like being helpful, and in that sense it's rewarding to get things done. And if I get too far behind on email, people are angry. But I'm not sure I receive the social reward bit Wang is talking about.


grump said...

That's not 100% true.

I IM you to chat frequently, but I feel guilty for it, thinking I'm keeping you from working.

Mark Lindsey said...

OK, that's true. I realized after making this post that there are three people I know who seem to reach out without asking me to do work. And I'm glad for those people. Chris is one of them.

Speaking of addictions, perhaps this makes him a co-dependent.