This post isn’t my attempt to dethrone Franz Kafka from his position in the royal family of literature. It’s about a species of beetles from Australia, and the similarities of our behavior with them.
The males of this species are attracted to a particular beer bottle and try to mate with it. These beer bottles resemble the females of the species, but they are just bigger and brighter. This behavior is an example of a phenomenon called supernormal stimulus.
If you look up from your phone and look at the people around, you can see many examples of the same phenomenon. In the last decade, technology evolved to take advantage of supernormal stimulus in humans.
The high-resolution screens of our devices and endless streams of bright and colorful content on social media channels such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook are hijacking our attention.
Just like the male beetle that’s wasting its time and energy trying to mate with a beer bottle, we’re depleting our attention with an activity that doesn’t add any value to our lives.
Similarities with Alcoholism
Our device addiction is built in a similar way to alcohol addiction, as a result of a positive feedback loop. Jordan B. Peterson explains the positive feedback loop in his book 12 Rules for Life.
A person consumes alcohol, and they feel good. This state reverses when their body starts to break down alcohol. Then, they realize that they can cure the bad feelings of withdrawal by drinking more alcohol. Once this feedback loop is established, the person gets more and more addicted to alcohol.
A similar mechanism is in play with the device addiction. We become stressed or bored in a specific situation. Instead of dealing with the stress or boredom directly, we use our gadgets to avoid them.
As we get used to the stimulation of our devices, not checking them causes withdrawal symptoms, which we cure by spending more time on them.
The Motivation to Quit
If you’re addicted to your device, you can use those two pieces of information as motivation to quit. Whenever you feel like checking your device unnecessarily, remind yourself that your device is to you what the beer bottle is to the Australian beetle.
Moreover, remind yourself that the positive feedback loop is drawing you further into the deeper levels of addiction hell.
Last but not least, take a deep breath, look up from your phone, and take a look around. You’ll realize that there’s a beautiful, real life out there, which feels much better than looking at a bright screen all the time.