Did kindergarten get you Hooked on Phonics? Did Blue Swede get you Hooked on a Feeling?
Now the Internet is getting you hooked on stress. That’s right, the Internet is training you to seek stress the way Pavlov trained his dogs. Maybe you don’t slobber every time your phone rings, but whenever you shop online or surf for trashy gossip, you’re getting trained to seek out stress and bark for more.
Surfing the web or checking Facebook creates something Pavlov called the orienting response. The orienting response does three nifty things all at once:
1) It hijacks your attention
2) It gives you a tiny jolt of stress hormone
3) It trains you to look for more
And presto! You’re hooked on stress!
But you ask, “How does this happen when all I want to do is surf for cat videos?” The explanation takes slightly longer than the average web surfer’s attention span, but here’s a short version.
Do you know why you jump at a loud noise? Or why every driver stops to “rubberneck” when they see flashing lights on a police car? Many of these reactions are built into our wiring by nature. Thousands of years ago, flashes and noises were likely to indicate something dangerous, a fire or a hungry animal or something bad. Abrupt noises would put the whole “fight or flight” system into high gear, eyes dilated, heartrate spiked, adrenaline pumping—the orienting response. Those reactions make us ready to deal with a threat.
Sorry if that’s too geeky. If it’s not geeky enough, though, you can totally geek out
Researchers today have found that you don’t need a big scary jolt to cause an orienting response. In fact, a less startling response is much more effective. A popup ad on a website you’re reading or an unexpected sound can do the trick. Most websites and smartphone apps hit you with that kind jolt several times each minute.
So if you love stress and can’t wait for more, you’re in luck! That smartphone in your pocket has become your own personal stress machine! At no extra cost!
But don’t let Verizon know about it—they’ll add a “supplementary stress fee.”
Advertisers learned to take advantage of the orienting response years ago. Because the orienting response does more than cause an earthquake in your vital signs. It improves your memory—of the thing causing the stress. They make you remember the things they want you to buy with ads that create an orienting response. And remember, the Internet is an advertising platform, above all. Every flashing, moving, popping, noisy item you see online is designed to make the orienting response happen in you, over and over and over.
So the reason that so many people feel muddled after using the Internet is that it gets us “hooked” on the orienting response. We not only expect that stress, we seek it. And life starts to feel kind of dull and unsatisfying if we don’t get our fix of stress. And we seek more and more of it, then wonder why we feel so frazzled.
So we’ve become hooked on stress, and we can’t help looking for more stress every chance we get.
So log on and stress out! And don’t forget where you read this!