A Pharmacy of Awesomeness

Dopamine, one of many neurotransmitters in the brain, triggers feelings of euphoria when you complete a task. (“dopamine” licensed by AJ Cann under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Earlier this year, design specialist and business consultant Richard Banfield spoke to a crowded lecture hall at MacEwan University about digital tech companies and how they’re toying with our brains.

Have you ever wondered what alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and social media have in common?

Maybe you can’t speak to all of the above, but I’m sure everyone’s felt that fleeting rush from getting “likes” on pictures and posts. All of the above trigger the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain that creates feelings of euphoria.

Companies like Facebook are basing their business model on how we feel, Banfield says. And it all comes down to brain chemistry.

Oxytocin (the love drug) is triggered by inclusion, like when friends add you to their social network. Serotonin triggers feelings of pride and value when a goal is accomplished. Think about Endomodo or Strava, workout apps that let you share your progress with your friends. And who doesn’t like feeling proud and loved? Emotions like these keep us coming back for more, and that’s why apps like Facebook and Instagram are so addictive.

I’ve never been very active on social media, but in the personal branding assignment, I was HOOKED on the likes from friends and strangers responding to my Instagram posts. At one point during the assignment, I literally sat still for two hours straight, sending out pictures and taking in the love. It was a vicious cycle.


Interaction notifications, like those from social media apps, releases the flow of addictive chemicals in the brain, and keep users coming back for more. (“Facebook Feed Notification” licensed by Chris Messina under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)


Companies like Facebook and Strava know that emotions drive behaviour – that if it feels good, we’ll keep coming back for more. And all this adds up to dollars for apps that generate revenue from display ads (or subscription fees for those who want to go ad-free). Just think about how many times you’ve checked your Facebook feed today.


One thought on “A Pharmacy of Awesomeness

  1. This is a great to truly ruminate over Hamdi.
    Are digital interactions the new “substance” problem to address and control? Should we limit ourselves and our fellow human beings to the quantity of those interactions? Do our family and friends relationships suffer on account of the personal time spent utilizing these technology platforms?
    Sometimes, I wonder if Facebook is a place for people to pretend to feel connected, but is it really is just a tool of masking, acting, loneliness, and disconnection?

    Far too many of us spend too much time on social media trying to grasp feelings of humanity that forever elude us on the digital social space. The digitized world is one dimensional, and how can that substitute for our multi-dimensional needs on Maslow’s hierarchy?

    I need to reflect deeply upon these things myself, too.

    Melissa L.A. Bishop


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