Last week I was thinking about what an unhappy combination the Default Mode Network and Smartphone Notifications make.
Default Mode Network (wikipedia entry) is the constant chatter in our heads. Two minute long video explanation.
When we are not actively engaged in a task we… – Sam’s Garden
When we are not actively engaged in a task we switch to the Default Mode Network of the brain the thinking which arises is discursive (jumping from subject to subject), autobiographical and though occasionally touching on pleasant subjects, eventually highlighting our shortcomings and failures and making us unhappy and anxious regardless of our actual circumstances.
It’s automatic, pre-programmed behavior in human beings.
I think DMN may be one reason why people get so addicted to their social media feeds. They are fighting the voice of their DMN with the fire of constant notifications. Anything to make the internal voice stop. Doom-scrolling, notifications for everything, alerts and alarms all day long, just to avoid the internal voice.
Perhaps app designers read books about neuroscience and know very well that people WANT something to take their attention away from the internal dialog. They know how to get our attention and how to keep it.
Thousands of years ago the DMN was extremely useful because people had time on their hands. They might have been busy during the day but nights were long without lamps and electric lights, without TV or computer or even books. One could spend part of a night staring into a fire (the beginning of meditation?) and one still had lots of time for sleep, especially in winter. The same rumination that drove humanity forward for thousands of years, now makes us unhappy because our lives have changed.
Although I am sure the DMN is still useful, it seems that mine spends … conservatively … 80% of its time locked in what I call “Imposter Mode” … this is thought cycles spent obsessing over imposter syndrome type thinking. It’s pretty annoying, and it seems to definitely be “default.”
And, it seems the only thing I can do to drown it out is to keep focused on various kinds of math or solid state physics problems or projects. Anything to get it to shut up. I can see how, if I had a social media predilection, this might be a very appealing alternative: it would be nice always getting a notification to get the DMN to shut up about how “we” will be found to be a fraud any time now.
I call my DMN my “internal monologue.” The crap that comes up are “worthless tapes” that often include “woe is me” type bullshit. I have depression, for which I’m medicated, so these tapes are very counter productive to any positive work I may be trying to do. I haven’t been able to get into meditation, though. I have no doubt it would help me. Severe depressive episodes (I’m in the midst of one now) make a person ditch all of their helpful habits, like meditation, working on creative pursuits, exercise, etc. It’s a vicious cycle. I do spend a decent amount of time on social media, but I don’t have notifications turned on for anything except email.