The smartphone is the modern day hypodermic needle, delivering dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation!
Our recent Book Club read was Dopamin Nation – Finding Balance in the Age of Indulgence.
This was a very immersive book which forced you to analyse your life and confront your addictions head on. Many of us may claim not to be addicted to anything, but if you honestly map your day to day activities you will soon notice that there are many activities you do for the dopamine release and these activities our “outside of your control”.
We’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance: Drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting…the increased numbers, variety, and potency of highly rewarding stimuli today is staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivery digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation. If you haven’t met your drug of choice yet, it’s coming soon to a website near you.Dr Anna Lembke – Dopamine Nation page 1
Now, consider again whether you have an addiction! How often do we feel the need to pull out our phone to “check” for messages, to see what is new on YouTube etc. This particularly acute addiction, isn’t our fault.
The technology itself is addictive, with its flashing lights, musical fanfare, bottomless bowls, and the promise, with ongoing engagement, of ever-greater rewards.Dr Anna Lembke – Dopamine Nation page 23
Of course, you may be one of the protected few. One of those that is not addicted to technology in one form or another, but how about food, sweets, or some of the more sinister vices such as drugs, smoking, gambling, alcohol or as is increasingly destroying amongst our youth, pornography.
Each one of these is addictive because they give us a pleasure. That pleasure is by the release of a hormone called dopamine – hence the title of the book. We get addicted because of the pleasurable feeling we get, that “dopamine high”.
Science teaches us that every pleasure exacts a price, and the pain that follows is longer lasting and more intense than the pleasure that gave rise to it.Dr Anna Lembke – Dopamine Nation page 66
Whilst we may see the effects of a physical pain i.e. hangover from drugs or alcohol, a depression which arises from gambling when we lose money, some pains are harder to see. The effect on our soul from pornography is an obvious example. It may be that the pain only manifests after some years of use. How many marriages break down or don’t even start now due to the prevalence of pornography from a young age? How much time is lost in our day from surfing the net or watching the ubiquitous cat videos. Mind numbing nonsense which is churned out 24/7, 365 to keep you hooked. For anyone who wants a light hearted look at the industry and how senseless and stupid it is, one can watch Wreck it Ralph 2 – Ralph breaks the internet. In an attempt to get “likes” the protagonist Ralph has to involve himself in stupider and stupider videos to keep people interested. We live in a time when people vie to become YouTube celebrities and churn out videos so they can be kept in people’s feed. What long-term effect will that have on the souls of those producers and the consumers?
This book came at a great time. We are on the cusp of Ramadan and Ramadan is a month of abstinence. We associate it as an abstinence from food, drink and marital relationships, but it is becoming ever more apparent that it should be an abstinence from technology as well. The traditional books of Islam talk about those actions which break the “spiritual fast” and from them mention actions such as backbiting, unlawful gazes, lying etc. If technology was around then as it is now, there is no doubt they would have included it in the list as technology allows you to do all of the above whilst being at home, sitting in the masjid etc.
Of course, not all pleasure is bad!
Abu Hurairah narrated that:Sahih Jami` at-Tirmidhi 766
The Messenger of Allah said: “There are two joys [pleasures] for the fasting person: the joy [pleasure] when he breaks his fast, and the joy [pleasure] of when he meets his Lord.”
Without pleasure we wouldn’t eat, drink or reproduce. However, by raising our neural set point with repeated pleasures, we become endless strivers, never satisfied with what we have, always looking for more.
The question of how to moderate is becoming an increasingly important one in modern-day life, because of the sheer ubiquity of high-dopamine goods, making us all more vulnerable to compulsive overconsumption, even when not meeting clinical criteria for addiction.Dr Anna Lembke – Dopamine Nation page 88
That is why Ramadan is such a great opportunity! It allows us to reset our neural set point. That can only work, however, if we take Ramadan seriously. If we are prepared to limit and severely constrain our technology use and replace it with what takes us closer to Allah, such as prayer, dhikr, duah, charity etc.
I highly recommend people read this book as addictions and overconsumption are the elephant in the room. Often times we are flirting with addictions without even being aware. Dr Lembke gives many case studies from her own life and clinical practice which make you cringe and empathise with her patients but also shine a light on your own issues.
These addictions will ultimately be a barrier for us on the path to seeking the pleasure of Allah and the longer it takes us to recognise and eliminate them the harder it will become as the neural dependency on the dopamine release entrenches itself. As is always the case the receptors get used to the drug of choice and so the user has to increase in potency of what they use and that is causing a severe imbalance in the world around us.
We need to restore balance to our own lives and hope that we can be initiators of change within our communities to bring balance and harmony back to them.