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Mindful Neuroscience: Tech Addiction and The Social Dilemma

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Editor's Note: This article was authored by Stefanie Faye, for the Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM). Thanks, Stefanie!

Natural Programming of the Brain

The human species has some pretty spectacular systems built into us to achieve mental, emotional and physiological states that most of us are not even really aware of.

We also have systems and features within us that make us very vulnerable to being influenced and 'programmed' into behavior that is not reflective of our most evolved neural circuitry.

Technology is interfering with and manipulating those systems.

And the more we get to know how technology is interfering with those systems, the more we can get control over our internal state rather than let the tech companies (who do not have the best interests of the human brain and nervous system in mind) hack into our vulnerabilities.

That is why organizations like Humane Tech - and documentaries like The Social Dilemma, are important for us to know about. We may not want to know how much we are being manipulated and used as a currency, but I think it's important for us to have some awareness of this.

The Cost of Free Technology Platforms

So, technology is a big word. In the Social Dilemma, the main focus is on the free platforms, such as search engines and social media platforms like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter and Tik-Tok. Something to think about when we're using these free platforms is, what is the transaction? We kind of take for granted that we get to just use these and love them. And I think a lot of us don't necessarily think about, what is the cost that we are paying? Because we are paying one, even if it's not in dollars.

Part of the cost we are paying is a degradation of the human mind-brain-body system and many of its powerful features. There are two particular aspects that the business model of the free platforms is amplifying to a degree that I think many of us don't fully understand how serious and detrimental this could be for us as a species.

Key Forces Influencing Tech Addiction

There are two key forces within our tech addiction. The first is Inadequacy messaging (from marketing). Inadequacy messaging is explained by Jonah Sacks in his book Story Wars, the messaging that advertisers use to influence us into believing that that we are inadequate in our ability to succeed or get what we want with what we have - that there is something missing within our lives that needs to be filled by somebody else.

The second key force is patterns of instant gratification (my nickname for these are P.I.G.’s or “pigs”) are what we do to instantly feel better, regardless of whether that action will be good for us in the long term or not. P.I.G.’s are what keep us at a very immature level of our development of our neural circuitry - and are one of our vulnerabilities - that existed before technology, but that the algorithms and techniques being used by many technology companies are feeding off of and exacerbating to a degree that may have a serious impact on us a species.

Compounding Effects of Addictive Forces

It's about something outside of us; Something external that is ‘not us’ that we want to use to make us ‘feel better’. They are sparked by some desire to change our internal state and in essence sparked by some dissatisfaction or discomfort with our current physiological state. Further, there’s some type of grasping of some type of object or ‘tool’ outside of us for creating the desired change in our internal environment. There is some type of movement - often with an upper limb - to grab something we will consume or use in some way that we think will make us feel better.

The biggest theme of both the patterns of instant gratification and the inadequacy of messaging is the mindset or paradigm that: something that is ‘not us’, something outside of us - will make us feel better inside.

This is what is being fed off of in terms of any type of addiction, or maladaptive repetitive behavior… it is the belief that we cannot feel better by using our own ‘self’, our own mind. We must have something outside of us to do that. So we can also call that ‘conditional self-regulation. This can also relate to people - that we are constantly looking for other people’s approval and validation to ‘make us feel better’.

And this is the dysfunctional formula that social media is amplifying within us. And because of the sophistication of these algorithms, it is doing this to a point where we can become neurochemically altered into trance-like, repetitive behavior of how we decide to make ourselves ‘feel better’.

Repetitive behaviors are not necessarily good or bad, but when they become maladaptive, it means that we repeat our history, we stay stuck in patterns that we don't’ actually like, we stay stuck in patterns that keep us falling into the same situations over and over again that cause us anxiety or a feeling of being unfulfilled.

Negative Impact of Maladaptive Repetitive Behavior

If you look at other species (Max Tegmark and Eliezer Yudkowski both talk about this), we see that they are not going to expand into fundamentally new ways of problem solving. Bees are going to continuously make hives. They’re not going to expand what they have into making a different ‘product’. They will make hives, beavers will build dams, ants will build ant hills. But humans are able to rise above that. We have the capacity to flex and adapt with our environments to figure out how to become more flexible, more adaptable, more sophisticated, complex.

So nature has led us to be different from many of those species in terms of how much we can evolve and transcend our circumstances and innovate completely new situations in order to figure out how to adapt to our environment.

I believe that anything that keeps us repetitive in a maladaptive, automated, unconscious way is detrimental to us as a species.

When we are repetitive, we are not using those beautifully powerful features of the human mind-brain-body system.

And that is one of the main issues I see coming up about our use of technology and becoming hooked on social media - is there is a maladaptive, repetitiveness of our behaviors that I think is dangerous because it is preventing us from using that very evolved, sophisticated circuitry that we all have within us. It is part and parcel of the human brain.

“By shaping the menus we pick from, technology hijacks the way we perceive our choices and replaces them with new ones. But the closer we pay attention to the options we’re given, the more we’ll notice when they don’t actually align with our true needs.” - Tristan Harris


In this episode, I go over some of what The Social Dilemma talks about in terms of the actual mechanisms and business model being used by free platforms and how this is being used in ways that are damaging humans on a neurological level. I also go into some ideas about how we can gain our power back over our own patterns of instant gratification and maladaptive repetitive behaviors.


Stefanie Faye is a neuroscience researcher and clinician. She has been consulting in countries across the globe and works to bridge the gap between complex research and practicable application. Through group training, development seminars, and lectures Stefanie helps individuals find new ways of using their talents, discomforts, failures, and challenges as pathways to growth and evolution.

Institute for Organizational Mindfulness (IOM) is a membership association of researchers, educators and executives, with a shared mission to bring science-based neural training into the mainstream of business, healthcare, education and government. We're working to create a global community of shared experience, conduct research, define standards and practices, develop educational programs, and determine the measures, metrics and analytics for organizational mindfulness.

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