64 Comments
May 6Liked by Andrew Chen

This resonates so hard. There's so much nuance where there been a generic vilification of dopamine and "fast culture" user behaviors that there's some missing understanding that some people just prefer to live in one paradigm or the other. Often times people fail to see they're falling into the clickbait arguments arguing a morale stance when they're just mechanics. And 💯 on the product management influence.

There's a certain irony in that I'm reading this in line at the bank wishing that they'd embrace a little bit of dopamine and convenience culture.

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author

yup! Convenience culture, not dopamine culture :)

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When I worked at a bank in the early 2000s, we tested putting TVs next to the teller lines. Our surveys showed that people perceived the wait to be shorter (and less aggravating) when they were amused, even if that amusement was something dull like CNBC.

Smartphones have supplanted that. We've lost something from never being bored, but we've also gained a lot!

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Yeah, this is a classic "solve waiting in a queue at a theme park" exercise that happens in UX interviews. There have been some crazy experiments with companion apps (eg. My Disney Experience, Play Disney Parks) that totally take it to the next level. Definitely more down the dopamine path.

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May 6Liked by Andrew Chen

so insightful. thanks for writing

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author

glad you enjoyed! And fun to see you on here!

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Reading this essay about short dopamine attention spans - A great book came to mind - Thinking Fast and Slow, by Nobel Prize Winner Daniel Kahneman, who recently died. His book's main thesis is about the role glucose levels play in dictating our behaviors-feeding the brain flow as in heuristics. Most of the time we are on evolutionary auto-pilot (slow lazy brain conserving energy/glucose) but when we need to, we burn serious glucose to kick it to the next level (fast brain) - mental/physical tests and meeting deadlines etc. Many things come into play when it comes to building and selling a product - both the creator, the environment and lady luck. As a creative that has paid some serious dues for many moons, I myself am sick of waiting for the long curve and wish to have some success before I die.

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A great companion book might be Mark Solms The Hidden Spring, which examines feelings, not higher reasoning, as the origin and central driver of cognition. Solms worked with Karl Friston on this cognitive theory and it is consistent with Friston's physics-based "free energy principle" of brain function. Hard to grasp sometimes (for me, anyway) but rewarding in the way it fits with, explains and expands on work in many disciplines of the science of the mind, including narrative theory.

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I really like your observations about the convenient access information acting as a "commercial" for the longer, better stuff.

After all, humans are mostly explore/exploit machines - I like that I can preview more options in less time than before - I can quickly look through 100 pieces of content in a minute or two.

And I am going to exploit only a few good writers in a day, like you for example.

I read your entire article! And it was a great read.

What got me for this one? The shiny image and the points that apply to my scroll-y 11 year old daughter.

Thank you for sharing.

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sadface. Woe the irony of pulling a chart from Ted Gioia, and presenting (effective, I'm sure) tips on how to capitalize on and likely accelerate the trend towards cultural oblivion.

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author

I disagree that's where the trend is going! I make that point about midway through the essay where I talk about accessibility/consumption modes/etc. I think a lot of the faster interaction modes actually allow for "sampling" for people to be able to engage in many of the deeper interactions over time

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Remind me of Entertainment industry in Japan. Built around IPs, the entertainment industry extends like a spider web into various end-users such as games, webtoons, toy&merchandise, movies, fan fiction, and more, with IPs acting as the central axis. Covering from slow-dopamine culture to catch all the fishes.

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It depends on how important we consider the term "convenience" to be. if in economic terms, ok, but hyper-performance is creating frightening rifts. if we analyze the meaning in social terms, then the matter is even more alarming.

we talk about community, aggregation, connections, but the truth is that people have found their ephemeral refuge behind a screen, strongly wearing out what makes us who we are, relationships, contact and empathy.

Thanks for this enlightening article Andrew.

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It is a vicious or virtuous cycle depending on who is influencing it. Thanks for sharing!

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Interesting perspective, but pretty over simplified, arbitrary and narrowly focused, I think. You suggest that Gioia's chart is structured as it is "because what is real/offline tends to take more intent and longer engagement, since you have to physically go somewhere." Actually, I think it's arbitrarily structured that way simply because Gioia wanted the data to make a point and so he made a choice to apply this particular set of headings as his filter on the world and to arrange things so we have IRL on the left (typical starting point in our system of orthography) and tech on the right. It didn't have to be this way, i.e., there is nothing about the phenomena being examined that inherently demands the chart be ordered as it is. For starters, you don't have to go anywhere to have an experience, you just have to be somewhere. Most human experience involves the body's interactions with its environment, which is always present. Conversation, for example, can occur with anyone or thing that is near you at any moment and, when it occurs, it is instant and the feedback from it is similarly instant. I also think there are problems with the use of a biological model that focuses on one element out of millions (dopamine) that are part of the current explanation of how the brain works to model and adjust to what it perceives as the real world. At any rate, I wouldn't get too carried away about the usefulness of this chart.

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So glad to have you here Andrew and this was a great read!

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Substack is becoming a better place everyday haha

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I like your idea of faster 'sampling'. I think people's issue with dopamine culture is that the short-form delivery systems are so so much better than long-form delivery systems. Most people don't have the willpower to resist infinite short-form marshmallows. If you've been raised in a slower print culture, it's hard to watch masses of people herded so efficiently by short form delivery systems.

I think the answer is better slow culture delivery systems. It's unclear to me how we can design better long-form content platforms. Or where and how slower culture can even exist and germinate. Substack is a compelling possibility.

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A few years ago I rediscovered that libraries exist. Did you know you can read almost any book you can think of, for free? I had literally forgotten about it.

How do we get people to the library? They have movies, too.

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Ha! Me too! Just the other day an Audible book expired on me with one hour to go. I happened to remember the library app on my phone and downloaded the e-book to finish it. This was a lovely combination of the two ends of the spectrum Andrew talks about.

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Enlightening. It is all about how the content makes us feel at the end. The neuromarketing has progressed significantly.

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May 9·edited May 9

Huh.....it sucks to be in such a high pressure and fickle game, i guess unless you truly enjoy it.

I think places like ebay also changed your average joe selling stuff from home into feeling like they had to offer a warranty with selling second hand stuff - I think that is another angle to all this . I recall in Mtv's Max Headroom once had what they called "blip-verts" , sort of super-short ads, but these caused peoples heads to explode. I think the creators of Max Headroom were ahead of thier time - I see ultra short attention span as being that of feeble minded people, does this mean the population has been trained and effectively dumbed down to that of attention spans of toddlers? You also see it in news - rarely do people read beyond the headline so its easy to steer public opinion. There is a powerful warning in history - Hitler once said "How wonderful for rulers that people do not think".

I am sitting back and waiting for society basically disappear up its own rear end as it gets faster and faster......

I'm in no rush, and also observe society basically on a very distended and weird trajectory - so much of society has gone loopy, and it appears its ultimately at odds with general biological humanity, so perhaps people need enjoy the unsustainable head-long current "sugar rush" while it lasts . Everything now seems negotiable, but in truth after the hedonistic party comes the monster hangover......

Lasting engagement is the key to selling I think. If a brand can endure beyond nano-second attention span gen Zs and engage beyond that, you're onto something. Certainly unless a brand has a degree of trust ( which takes time to build ) , there is no way its getting my money.

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Like all aspects of human biology, you can figure out a way to play to it or try to play against it.

It is somewhat like health care. If you follow all the advise of every doctor, nurse practitioner, or new pharmaceutical that comes into your attention span and sounds reasonable; you can turn yourself into a walking, talking medicine cabinet.

But if you follow what is tried and true to take care of yourself, next thing you know you have enough time and money to enjoy your reclining years in a relatively relaxed and healthful state of being.

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I think a lot about how dopamine affects creators, causing them to become worse over time.

A post goes viral and then it becomes the bar you compare all future posts to. Unfortunately most posts that go viral on platforms are generic enough to appeal to a large group of people (harsh truths, AI tool lists, TED talk lists, shitting on managers)

Eventually that’s all you post so you can chase the high. Numbers are going up as more new people see your banal posts. But over time more people clue in that there’s little substance. They start mocking you behind your back. They roll their eyes when they see you post

You try to launch a product and few buy it because you didn’t build trust, credibility, or authority in anything besides posting viral posts about generic ideas

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I would love to go back to competence porn.

Seeing the fastest, strongest, smartest succeed to inspire us all.

What you are describing is a race to the bottom.

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RemovedJun 12
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This reminded me a lot about the dislike for the recent iPad ad - it glorified everything offered in dopamine culture and eliminated the happiness associated with slow traditional culture. Maybe we see a shift, where the true dopamine hits become multi-modal and in physical reality.

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