Monday, October 29, 2012

Why Email is Addictive

"Now that so many of us are continually logged on to the Web, lots of people no longer sit and read a newspaper or a magazine but instead get their news from the Internet as they furiously try to keep up with their email or other online activities. Many use hand-held devices to surreptitiously check their email during business meetings, corporate retreats, their kid's soccer games, and even church services. There are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies who check their BlackBerrys after every golf shot, and some people actually refuse to vacation anywhere they cannot get a high-speed Internet connection to their email and other Web-based sites at all times.

"Part of what makes email so addictive is that it follows the rules of operant conditioning, which means that the behavior is shaped by its consequences. When you check email, you get intermittent positive responses. Sometimes you receive good news: the arrival of an old friend, perhaps a great joke, or a long-awaited response to a request. Occasionally, you receive fantastic news, such as word that your lost winning lottery ticked was found at the dry cleaners. But more often, a neutral, boring, or distressing mail notice or spam gets through. You can never tell in advance whether checking your email will be pleasurable or not, so you keep on checking, checking, and checking, Behavioral psychologists have detailed how the principles of reward and punishment reinforce this behavior, and they have found that using consistent rewards--good news all the time--is less motivational than randomly occurring rewards. Much like gamling addicts, people keep up the behavior because 'next time' may bring the big payoff. The brain's neural circuitry is prewired for this response." (Ibrain, pp. 54-55)
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