Sunday, 27 July 2008

loving novelty, craving depth

“I feel that much of my life is ebbing away in the tide of minute-by-minute distraction . . . I’m not certain what the effect on the world will be. But psychologists do say that intense close engagement with things does provide the most human satisfaction.” The psychologists are right. McKibben describes himself as “loving novelty” and yet “craving depth”, the contemporary predicament in a nutshell.

What a great way of nailing down that very modern way of operating, 'loving novelty' but 'craving depth'.

What's most annoying about this duality of motivation is that the former usually comes without the latter. The new attracts us and the emptiness of its reality sets us hunting again, more sullied and poorer of time.

(Or in T.S. Eliot's better words the new arrives “Filled with fancies and empty of meaning / Tumid apathy with no concentration”.)

This is almost certainly due to the dopaminergic system in the brain. Newness and the promise of reward fire up areas of the brain rich in dopamine (Knutson, Westdorp, Kaiser, & Hommer, 2000).

When expected reward fails to arrive dopamine levels plunge - and the pleasure drains away - but the brain wants its hit so carries on seeking. It carries on trying to find the new. (Read Panksepp's great book on this sort of thing for more)

Digital experiences are very much like this. Newness. Excitement. Reality. Disappointment. Seeking newness again. 30 minutes on YouTube should be enough to elicit this gamut of emotions in anyone with an intact dopaminergic system. And it leaves you feeling grubby.

We can't help but be magpies to novelty. It is hardwired. We can, however, try to build digital experiences that supply real depth that don't feel like cheap distractions.

This is one reason why I think gaming should be bigger in advertising. And others do too.

More depth please.

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