Their playing a dangerous trick on us

You know that little red number, the one that excites us?

The one that releases Dopamine into our nervous system making us simultaneously feel euphoric and assured.

Here’s a photo to help jog your memory.

These innocuous red squares, called “Notifications,” are omnipresent in our lives.

They tell us, in subtle and no-so-subtle ways about our place in the world. And in doing so, they create a deeply troubling relationship between us and our ability to be happy.

On the surface, these numbers are gentle reminders that we matter. That we’re alive in the minds of others. And when we’re having a bad day or a bad week it’s these notifications that give us a quick hit of “mattering.” Whatever setbacks we’ve run into, our numerical, red comrades remind us that in our lifelong quest to matter, we’re on track.

Under the surface, there’s an even more interesting dynamic at play. We post, comment, like and tag to create a perception in the minds of our friends that we matter. And they respond, in kind, that we do.

But does your Facebook life mirror your real one? I know mine doesn’t. It doesn’t have the fears, bad days and awkward conversations. Only pretty sunsets and glitzy achievements.

I, and I suspect we, create an image of our life on social networks that can’t possibly be true. We know it, deep down. In pursuit of feeling like we’ve mattered to the world, our creations end up constantly reminding us that we don’t. No matter how many likes our perfect beach vacation photo gets, we can’t escape thinking of all the others that didn’t make the cut.

Our ongoing love affair with notifications has, sadly, warped our sense of fulfillment.

True fulfillment is spending 30 minutes a day for 5 years learning a language. Most days there aren’t any gushes of Dopamine. But the sensation when you navigate your first conversation with a native speaker is lasting.

So, today, I challenge you to post on [insert your social network of choice] that you’re stepping away for a little while. And heading off on a new journey toward something far away and vague and scary…

…and fulfilling.

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