Doomed by desire

A millennial's confession or smartphone addiction …

Doomed by desire

Original material

We, the generation of millennials, are often the heroes of various materials. A recent Economist article describes us as 'more respectable and less hedonistic.' We are also 'spoiled by smartphones', according to The Atlantic's popular essay, which is hard for me as a millennial to read, which in turn confirms the relevance of the theses expressed in it. There are other words that can describe us. The most common is 'withdrawn'. 'Insolent' is another definition. 'Smartphone-shifted' is not a word, but someone has to come up with a term for it, like 'iPhone', or a name for painful smartphone addiction. In any case, people love to talk about our generation, because yes, it means a broader concern for the health of our society, but also because by lamenting the shortcomings of our generation, it is so easy to bring our own to normal. And these articles are read, casting a disadvantageous light on the world in which we live. Therefore, I, the 'insolent', 'reserved' and 'iPhone' millennial, am writing another such article.

To present a broader point of view, I need to bring to the reader a few smaller points. Before that, I will express my general idea as succinctly as possible so that you can observe the development of the narrative logic. In short, we millennials are 'more respectable and less hedonized' because we have been influenced by the most efficient set of variable reward systems in existence – smartphones. And as much as I would like to blame in particular iPhone, but I must: my relationship with Apple is solid and reinforced by how long I have deliberately and contemptuously denied the breakthroughs in the development of the company's constantly improving products and how absurd this position seems now. But you can't argue with the truth: the smartphone and, in particular, iPhone, together with the variable reinforcement modes imprisoned in it, is the most effective tool of censorship and pacification of a person in its entire history.

Doomed by desire

To make a more detailed argument, there are three parts to cover. The first will talk about what a variable reinforcement mode is, and the second will talk about how iPhone and a smartphone in a more general sense became a device, the distribution of which is directly dependent on its status as a control mechanism for the mentioned reinforcement mode. In the third part, we will talk about the impact on users of a device with a potentially infinite number of such mechanisms.

Variable Reinforcement Mode

Established in the 1950s by the psychologist and behavioral scientist B.F. Skinner's Experiment ?, variable reinforcement mode is a system designed to distribute rewards in an unpredictable manner in response to the same action. The experiment involved two groups of mice. The first group was given access to a system where, as a result of leverage, sometimes a large treat was given, sometimes a small one, and sometimes nothing. The second group, for comparison, was given the same treat for the same action. Mice of the control group (second), quite expectedly, did not feel the compulsive need to pull the lever, which became akin to a light switch. They lost interest in it after the first use, given the fact that the same action was associated with the same result and at worst would become boring, and at best, expectedly useful. The mice in the first group, however, furiously pulled the lever, in their case it was the handle of a slot machine from Las Vegas and caused compulsive addiction, because was designed as an obvious mechanism for distributing awards.

In most biological species – including humans – such systems are addictive, because they appeal to what was once evolutionary superiority: pattern recognition. Consider the human brain as an algorithm that processes input and produces results ('if ____, then ______). A humanoid race with an 'if [random noise] then [run]' algorithm would have a better chance of surviving than one with 'if [random noise] then [who knows?]' Logic. We understand that humans and other species have evolved evolutionarily to recognize patterns to the point where they create patterns where none exist. In fact, our existence is the result of this process. Casinos have exploited this feature of ours for generations. Many of the examples of addictive systems are found outside their walls: craps, slot machines, roulette. These games are haphazard and addictive: there is no way to know when you will win or whether you will win at all, there is only the probability of winning, which is more than enough. The creation of systems such as the physical confirmation of the power of a variable reinforcement regime without visible patterns exploits human obsession to seek out cause and effect systems where none exist. And in the variable modes of reinforcement, they are definitely not there. And no device has more of these modes than a smartphone.

Smartphone as variable reinforcement mode

The smartphone is arguably the most important device of our generation. It is simultaneously an unprecedented collection of information and an indicator of status, a physical representation of a digital personality that allows us to perceive our complex, sometimes painful lives through a device that looks like river stones washed off by water to smoothness, and soothing in that it can provide an answer to any a question regarding the unknowable chaos around us. The fact that so many lives exist within these devices is a testament to the wonders of engineering and a praise for the imaginations of designers and artists around the world. It also testifies to a person's desire to rethink the chaos around him into something physically attractive, in order to see himself not as he is, but as he would like to.

Doomed by desire

There is something more immoral behind this state of affairs: smartphones use the same reinforcement mode that Skinner used in his experiments, forcing mice to pull the lever. There is no doubt about this, everyone felt an inexplicable desire to get the phone for no reason, or found that they completely forgot about the work in progress, switching to the phone. The smartphone combines a group of variable reinforcement modes: e-mail (new message – 'Who needs me?'), Social networks ('likes' -' How many? How do they see me from the outside? '), News (' What did I miss? '). And they make us come back to them again and again, even when we know that there is nothing there. Once just a part of life, everyday routine suddenly became unnecessary. As a result, it becomes clear how crazy we are, that we have preferred the mundane to the lever, which we are forced to pull by the features responsible for the evolutionary development of our species.

So what is the result of all this? For starters, here's a quote from Neil Postman's book, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (literally Fun to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business):

Contrary to popular belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not predict the same thing. Orwell warns that outside oppression will take over. But in Huxley's vision, it doesn't take 'Big Brother' to rob people of independence, maturity, and their history. As he believed, people will begin to love their oppression, to adore technologies that make it impossible for them to think. In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled and enjoyed. Orwell feared fear would destroy us. Huxley was afraid that desire would destroy us. '

There is a wealth of interrelated knowledge that correlates smartphone use with pacification and the ensuing mental health crisis of entire generations. If you understand this, then Huxley was called a visionary for a reason. Brave New World was written in 1931, and 87 years later, our desires – not at the suggestion of Big Brother – have given way to a world in which two-thirds of adults have a device whose objective success is partly due to its status as the most adequate reading of variable mode. reinforcements.

Our ability to recognize patterns, once an evolutionary advantage, is now being used on a scale that Huxley never imagined. We're a more peaceful species, yes, and millennials are 'more respectable and less hedonistic' than generations past, but we may be deeply lost, our natural tendency to find solace in each other is distorted by the devices we now find each other in. . It's easy to point the finger at parents, the media, and institutions, but in this way we support Orwell's vision of a world in which people are controlled by inflicting pain. In reality, Huxley's view is more truthful: smartphones control us not by inflicting pain, but by delivering pleasure, not forcing us to roll on a slippery slope, but using features that have led our species to the current stage of evolution.

Author – Zander Netherget

Let's not say that it was more difficult for our generation, that we remember life without so many digital technologies around. Of course, we are a digitized generation, our children are truly digital generation, but if millennials are already experiencing and, most importantly, realizing the changes in consciousness that have come after the digital revolution, then what will happen next? Unwittingly, the scenarios from the Black Mirror, which have not yet managed to be forgotten, emerge, in which a warning is laid for us as for an intelligent species.

If we filter out post-apocalyptic scenarios, then it is quite possible to form a code of conduct and the use of digital devices that would not turn people into 'iPhone' misanthropes, but the imperfection of the world around them turns this plan into a utopia. How to be?

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