Sunday, June 20, 2021

Dopamine Hits For A Population Wracked By Technologically Mediated Addiction...,

technologyreview |  The implant was fine; it was me that was unpaired. I’d fallen out of sync with the city, and I hated it for taking people away from me and leaving me on my own. 

It’s safest to stay indoors: stay home. It’s the only way you can avoid the awkwardness, the disappointment, the fear. Delete Netflix and Uber Eats, install Prime Video and Amazon Restaurants. Stay at home and build your own city, make your own dopamine map. What’s the point of being lonely if you can’t do it by yourself?

At first, I tried to watch only movies set in New York, as though that had some significance. So the Avengers movies seemed a good place to start. I thought maybe watching the city being repeatedly reduced to rubble at a whim—endless computer-generated buildings demolished into nothing more than Technicolor pixel dust—might give me the hits I needed. But the app barely registered a spike for the first two hours and 22 minutes.

It wasn’t until I got to the post-credits scene—the one where the whole team is sitting around, silently eating, in some nameless, unaffiliated NYC shawarma joint—that my phone started to vibrate.

I’m not going to lie: for a fleeting moment I was ecstatic. I couldn’t tell you if it was just the dopamine spike or some joyful relief that the app had actually registered it. I rewound the scene and watched it again. Same spike, but with a slightly lower peak, according to the app. Third time was similar, but the results diminished again. Time to find more content.

At first I thought I’d have to watch whole movies for it to have the same impact—like I needed to build up some sense of connection with or investment in the characters before their friendships had any personal weight—and started earnestly slogging through the entirety of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But a YouTube fluke showed me otherwise. Before I could stop it, autoplay served me a clip from Ant-Man and the Wasp where Ant-Man is playing with his daughter, and my phone vibrated in my lap. Repeatedly. It was a fucking revelation. I didn’t even have to sit through countless rubble-cities and the eternal melodrama and the endless wisecracking and the infinite polygons. Context was dead: all that mattered was fleeting, calculated emotional spikes. 

It’s not hard to find the content once you know where to look. Listicles are your guide—the real maps to dopamine city are called things like “The 10 Most Heartwarming Moments in the MCU” or “The MCU’s 12 Best Friendships” or “Relive These Feel-Good Moments from the MCU.” Start by searching Tumblr and Screen Rant and you’ll find them all. It’s even better and more efficient if they give you the time stamps. Tony and James sniping at each other in Iron Man (00:10:42). Nick Fury buddy-copping with Carol in Captain Marvel (01:48:07). Peter Parker and Ned Leeds in whichever Spider-Man movie that was (00:23:38).

And then there’s the death scenes, which are perfect if you’ve also got some unresolved societal-level mourning to work through. When Killmonger dies in Black Panther. When Quicksilver dies in Age of Ultron. Spider-Man in Infinity War. Peggy in Winter Soldier. When Groot says “We are Groot” in Guardians of the Galaxy 2.

After a while, of course, you don’t need to search it out; it finds you. Before too long, every ad on every web page was screaming at me about young-adult-oriented TV shows I never knew existed and Star Wars spin-off cartoons. My YouTube recommendations filled up with nothing but fan-edited compilations of superheroes weeping, or supercuts of every time Frodo and Sam hugged. 

There was this whole culture I’d avoided, that I thought I was somehow above, that wasn’t for me. An entire industry built to serve up comforting dopamine hits to a population wracked by technologically mediated loneliness, and exhausted by a society that felt like it was in constant, confusing collapse.




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