For humans, this desire to search is not just about fulfilling our physical needs. Panksepp says that humans can get just as excited about abstract rewards as tangible ones. He says that when we get thrilled about the world of ideas, about making intellectual connections, about divining meaning, it is the seeking circuits that are firing.
Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling? Thank dopamine. Our internal sense of time is believed to be controlled by the dopamine system. People with hyperactivity disorder have a shortage of dopamine in their brains, which a recent study suggests may be at the root of the problem. For them even small stretches of time seem to drag. An article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic last year, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. Like the lab rats, we keep hitting “enter” to get our next fix.
If humans are seeking machines, we’ve now created the perfect machines to allow us to seek endlessly.
For me, it’s a mini-world in which self-invention is ongoing. It’s a little like having fairies at the bottom of your garden. Ask them a question, they help you out. Start a game with them, they play inventively. They like jokes and are often mischievous. Sometimes they tease. They have faces that are beautiful or weird, or faces of cats, birds, masks, plants… elementals. Once in a while you get a goblin, but what else can you expect?
– Margaret Atwood on her Twitter fable. Her anecdote appears in The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.
Photo of the Radical Faeries fest from Project Q Atlanta.
Following the closure of DList (the gay MySpace) and the subsequent launch of Ragap (a gay Argentinian alternative to Twitter), I was approached by Tom Avendaño of El Pais (Madrid’s daily newspaper) to comment on whether there’s a need to have social networks specifically designed for gay men. You can read the Spanish article here, and right below you can read the entire unedited interview in English. Is it fair to say that gays invented social networks? Were hook-up sites like Gaydar the basis for current mainstream social networks? I wouldn’t say gays created social networks. I think every niche group and minority has the need to meet like-minded individuals. For Facebook it started with college students. Gay men did make a great community out of the early AOL M4M chatrooms that eventually evolved into the full-blown media company, PlanetOut (once owner of The Advocate and Gay.com). Argentina has just created a Twitter for gays. Thoughts? There already is a Twitter for gays. It’s called Twitter. What’s great about social networks is that you can find your village and make it as small or big as possible. I don’t see the sense to segregate our communities to other more specific networks, unless you are still closeted. What is it about social networks that attracts the gay community? Beyond the need to get laid with sites like Manhunt and Grindr, gay men are immediately attracted to new online social networks like Instagram out of need to connect with other gay men. Not everyone lives in San Francisco or Madrid. And for the eye candy, of course. Why do you think the heterosexual demographic never embraced social networking? The heterosexual community has embraced social networking and oftentimes for similar reasons. There are plenty of scandalously-clad straight girls on Twitter and insecure, self-deprecating straight guys on Tumblr. What are the main social networks for gays now that DList’s shutdown? The best gay-specific social network out there right now is GayCities.com. You can find gay hotspots in over 200 cities all over the world and the locals who frequent them. It’s great for jet-setters looking for that insider experience. I like it because It’s a very useful service. Even though gays have hit the mainstream with Facebook and Twitter there are still experiences and events that are catered specifically to gays and lesbians. And without them, how vibrant would gay life be? Like watching the Superbowl without Madonna at half-time. I have also been playing with Thingbox out of the UK, it’s probably the closest to DList but with a better design and way more user-friendly. What have been the main social networks for gays throughout history? Throughout the decades, younger gays have adopted new networks of their own. From Manhunt to Grindr, from Gay.com to GayCities.com, from Facebook to Path, from Tumblr to Instagram. I definitely see a big shift towards mobile apps. BOY TOYS TALK BACK: Are you conducting research or writing an article about technology, social media and the gay community? Get in touch with me. I give good sound bites.