Social Media: Dopamine and Disappointment at your Fingertips


The advent of the internet changed the world forever.

In more than 10,000 years of human history there has never been an invention that has affected the way humans live, work, and communicate. Electricity, invented in 1882, took half a century to be widely adopted in American households were still lit by gas lamps well into the 1920’s and 30’s. In comparison the modern internet -coincidentally invented in 1982- was adopted at a much faster rate. In 2006, merely 20 years after its invention, over 40% of American households had high-speed broadband Internet. Less than 10 years later, in 2015, about 75% of US adults owned some type of handheld computer and about 77% percent of US adults used the Internet.

Today, only about 10% of US adults do not use the Internet.

Less than 40 years from its inception, we are only beginning to ask the questions about how having a little computer in your pocket has changed the way humans will interact, communicate, and value themselves forever.

Today, I encourage you to think about how your pocket computer affects you daily, or how it keeps you up nightly. Ask yourself if this or anything like it has happened to you, or someone you know.

The faint ding of a notification - the instant rush of endorphins and pleasure. You check your phone only to see that it wasn’t a comment on your Facebook post, or a retweet of your most recent thought. It isn’t even a text message or a match on Tinder. It was an automatic notification from some app, asking you to rate it on the app store. Your pleasure fades to despair. No one cares about what you posted… Or you… Or your life… Dopamine morphs to despair as you wait for the next ding - hopeful it will be some sort of communication, some sort of validation that you matter.

How much weight do we put into our social media presence? How much importance do we give to the likes, emojis, tweets, and posts that dictate the digital bourgeoisie? We are so much more than our digital persona. We experience moments that we will remember forever with those that we love, and love us, that will never be documented online.

I believe that’s just fine.

I believe that as the world becomes irreversibly more and more connected, trapped in the web of the Internet, we must be increasingly aware of how the Internet affects not only our thoughts, but our self-esteem and how we value our interactions.

I encourage you to experiment for yourself. There is a plethora of apps on the app store that can give us insight into how we use our devices and how often. I encourage you to try one of the many that track how often you use your phone. A few years ago, I personally used an app called Checky and realized that I was checking my phone close to 200 times a day. That’s roughly 12 times an hour.

I’m not going to tell you to delete your Facebook, or throw your phone in a river. Rather, I am simply encouraging us to be aware that our culture is changing faster than it ever has, and likely ever will again. Like Ferris Bueller said, “Like comes at you fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you’ll miss it.” I would add to look up from your phone once in a while too.

All sources on Internet availability and adoption rates in the US are from the Pew Research Center.