If you found this article after few results of your search or first read after a long gap of reads, you are good to move ahead. If you found this article after many reads, after you scrolled through lot of articles, I suggest you to bookmark and read it later. Because this post is about the time sucker, Variable Reinforcement. How often do you feel guilt after spending 30 to 60 minutes watching Youtube videos? If often, this post can wake up your mind.
4 Years ago(2017-18), I uninstalled Youtube and Whatsapp when i felt i was hooked more than my threshold. I had the habit of reading technical books to prepare for some of the exams. Though I never made any successful attempt, I never felt bad. The novel wisdom I got every time after I read them was never regrettable. It was just to keep my technical brain sustain than just to evaporate. Youtube and Whatsapp sucked most of my time, which i realized when i found dust and stain on my books. When I created an account on Facebook, it took just 2 minutes. But when I decided to delete my account, there were hell a lot of questions to answer. Untiringly I answered one by one and gave up on my account. I did not have account on any streaming services. When my near world came to know about this, I was looked like an Alien. But this Alien got lot of time to spend on something useful after I got rid of them. I applauded myself for leaving them behind. It was a brave decision I made at that time (But I had to install them back for some good reasons, without getting addicted like before).
What makes us so much engaged in these apps? Once you enter, it takes lot of mental determination to exit. I had explained about Quicker Mind and Robust Mind in my previous post. Quicker mind loves unpredictability. When there was a time we enjoyed Magic tricks on stages, we were left with suspense after every trick. Our mind tried to unloop them but still it failed. Today we have videos showing behind the scenes of those tricks. What if you were scrolling down in YouTube and a clickbait thumbnail says about your favorite trick revealed. Your mind commands to watch it without any delay. As the video progresses, your mind unfolds the trick after every hint the video shows. Dopamine gets released in brain whenever you sense a pleasure. Finally when you get the whole trick unfolded, Dopamine reaches its max. This Dopamine makes you look for next similar video of someother reveal. When you scroll down and the thumbnail that you find immediately next to your video is something predictable, you skip it. Mind craves for next unpredictable video that sooths you. This reaction goes on until you put a barrier or your fellow humans shout at you (My parents used to do that).
Let me assume you watch cooking videos often. You enter Youtube and scroll down to watch your first recipe video. After the video ends, you perform below actions:
1. In older versions of YouTube (Thumbnail previews not available) when you scroll down, if you find a thumbnail with different recipe or same old recipe made with different ingredients and has more number of views, you would enter to watch that video. This is the reward your mind gets (You successfully found a worthy video to watch). If you encounter less viewed or similar recipe video, you ignore immediately, but you never stop scrolling further. Your mind reinforce you to search further seeking the reward of finding next video to watch. After few unclicked thumbnails, you find a different recipe thumbnail with more views and you enter to watch, releasing the dopamine reward. Everytime you scroll down until you find your reward, the number of thumbnails you passed by is always random. Hence this is called Variable Reinforcement, rewards at unpredictable frequency reinforce you to seek more rewards (Refer Skinner experiment done on rats and pigeons to understand more, an interesting one)
2. In newer versions (Thumbail previews available), as you scroll down, assume you find a thumbnail with different recipe or similar recipe. Even though you may not enter to watch that video, you wait for the preview to complete few seconds. During the preview, you wait for the interesting matter to please you. If you dont find any mind pleasuring instance, you scroll further for next thumbnail preview. But if you found an interesting instance, you enter to watch that video. Here the reward is still the same but now you spend more time in evaluating if the reward is actually present or not. This engages more by making you scroll less but still evaluate the reward.
As an analogy:
Lets say there are two babies taken to Disneyland like themepark for the first time. They are excited and they find new attraction in every direction they take. Lets say both the babies love ice-creams and a parlour was informed about this. Parlour then decides to sell ice-creams for free and keeps different flavors of ice-creams in every line of sight. Babies never know which flavor waits next. One baby was told to pick the ice-cream only by looking at the ice-cream but other was told to taste first and then decide to pick. In both cases ice-cream was provided free of cost. Still, the baby that was told to taste before every pick would have tasted 10 already while the other baby would be tasting its 5th or 6th ice-cream. In both cases the reward is same but evaluating the reward makes you spend more time to engage than a prediction by just looking at it.
Mental rewards which adds no value are useless pleasures that make humans to react compulsively. After spending some time in Youtube, visit history page and see how many vidoes you surfed through. You have to acknowledge and your mind should accept that you are wasting time. If you don’t bother, you are one among the million people who ignore being an addict. Spend your time wisely, have time-boxed interaction with social media apps. These are disrupting every human of every age. Understand the effect these apps have on your time and beware yourself. People know addiction is bad but still they ignore, this is not like alcohol addiction but it is even worse. Dopamine release due to alcohol or drug is different from dopamine release due to Social media app usage. You have to make up your mind to exit the app if your time hits. You cannot dismiss and continue to spend more.
Have empathy on yourself, don’t be a rat or pigeon, be a human and act wise.
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