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July 6th, 2003 at 10:52 pm

Information Addiction


Information addiction

According to this New York Times article, two Harvard faculty members say that information causes a “dopamine squirt” in humans, a rush similar to that given by narcotics. Just as narcotics are addictive, information is as well. They’ve given the disorder of information addiction the name ‘pseudo-ADD’ because it tends to cause somewhat ADD-like symptoms. Pics)

The ubiquity of technology in the lives of executives, other businesspeople and consumers has created a subculture of the Always On — and a brewing tension between productivity and freneticism. For all the efficiency gains that it seemingly provides, the constant stream of data can interrupt not just dinner and family time, but also meetings and creative time, and it can prove very tough to turn off.


Addicted computer

Some people who are persistently wired say it is not uncommon for them to be sitting in a meeting and using a hand-held device to exchange instant messages surreptitiously — with someone in the same meeting. Others may be sitting at a desk and engaging in conversation on two phones, one at each ear. At social events, or in the grandstand at their children’s soccer games, they read news feeds on mobile devices instead of chatting with actual human beings.

two phones

These speed demons say they will fall behind if they disconnect, but they also acknowledge feeling something much more powerful: they are compulsively drawn to the constant stimulation provided by incoming data. Call it O.C.D. — online compulsive disorder.

“It’s magnetic,” said Edward M. Hallowell, a psychiatry instructor at Harvard. “It’s like a tar baby: the more you touch it, the more you have to.”


Dr. Hallowell and John Ratey, an associate professor at Harvard and a psychiatrist with an expertise in attention deficit disorder, are among a growing number of physicians and sociologists who are assessing how technology affects attention span, creativity and focus. Though many people regard multitasking as a social annoyance, these two and others are asking whether it is counterproductive, and even addicting.

The pair have their own term for this condition: pseudo-attention deficit disorder. Its sufferers do not have actual A.D.D., but, influenced by technology and the pace of modern life, have developed shorter attention spans. They become frustrated with long-term projects, thrive on the stress of constant fixes of information, and physically crave the bursts of stimulation from checking e-mail or voice mail or answering the phone.

“It’s like a dopamine squirt to be connected,” said Dr. Ratey, who compares the sensations created by constantly being wired to those of narcotics — a hit of pleasure, stimulation and escape. “It takes the same pathway as our drugs of abuse and pleasure.”

“It’s an addiction,” he said, adding that some people cannot deal with down time or quiet moments. “Without it, we are in withdrawal.”

More here.


  • 1

    I want to be informed! I need to be informed! TV is too slow and the news is often biased. I need the world at my fingerprints! I’ve got usernames and passwords for accounts, for which I had to register to read the stuff, coming out my… I get too little sleep. I might forget a train of thought.

    I’m not a businessman either. Maybe it’s a control issue. I can’t control the world, my state doesn’t even get to vote in primaries, so being informed and informing others is like doing it vicariously, I think. They can do what I feel powerless to do–that is, get truly involved at some level of doing something about something (like writing an article or t a Congressman that is not done via e-mail)–due to inferiority complex (related to shouting at other drivers from inside my car with the windows shut instead of at them or arguing on internet forums.

    I’m probably full of it with my conspiracy theories, based on those of others’ (not that it’s all bull), and “being informed” (maybe the informers are spreading misinformation,, who knows?), but what the hey? It feels good–until I face in an insurmountable blockade, like eyes shutting on me at 4AM or I have to run to work.

    Is this all worth it? Is it important? Is it fulfilling? Does it really effect change? No.. Only intervention in affairs by God, usually because we pray (unless He needs to do something anyway), and He finds intervention for that, then, gets things done. I think I covered that correctly. This being informed, I believe, is compensating behavior, but I’m no psychologist, though I’ve read much about disorders–not that I’ve absorbed it much.

    “Someone’s got to kill the babysitter”. That’s a line, prettyy close to verbatim, from a Jim Carrey movie.
    God, help us!

    Phil on April 10th, 2008

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