I read a book once.

100 things every designer needs to know about people” by Dr Susan M. Weinschenk, the Brain Lady.

It was fascinating. It was practical and incredibly revealing. In it I discovered what I think might be the real reason we’re hooked on Facebook (and all manner of other social media sites). I discovered this on page 121 which talks about pleasure and reward.

Here’s how it works…

Your brain is pretty much the same as mine, more or less. Actually, I’ve bumped mine a few times falling off of bikes, out of trees and even off a car once so yours is probably in a bit better shape than mine. But that doesn’t change a thing. Your brain and mine still experience pleasure and reward in the same way.

Villain enters stage left: dopamine.

I say villain, for us yes, for Zuckerberg, it is the hero. Why? Because whenever you search for something dopamine is released into your body. It feels good. It rushes through your system, pleasuring you.

And guess what, every time you log in to Facebook you immediately start searching your feed. You’re served a constant stream of news and status updates. All you have to do is keep scrolling. This is the caveman equivalent to searching for nuts, berries, mushroom and all sorts of other nourishing goodies on the forest floor. As you search, you get a dose of dopamine, as you find a nugget and consume it, your opioid system kicks in and gives you another reward. This also feels nice, but not as nice as dopamine. So you search again and another dose of dopamine is released.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we should be rewarded more for searching out nuggets than consuming them, otherwise what would drive us on to keep searching for food, shelter, love or anything else we need throughout the course of our lives? In other words, our body and brain needs encouragement to get us off our backsides and go out and hunt.

Dopamine fuels the hunt.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, you name it, they all serve you with a constant stream of new nuggets. All you have to do is keep searching and you’ll keep being rewarded with dopamine: it’s like an addicition.

There’s another role biology plays in Facebook’s success that’s best explained with an old proverb, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

We are biologically drawn to each other: for company, for safety, for love, sex and collective endeavour.

Once Facebook achieved a critical mass of members, it was a fait accompli. Why would you not want to be where your friends and lovers are? It’s a false choice. You can only be where your friends and lovers are. Otherwise you’re lonely, excluded and cut off from society and social status. Your brain isn’t designed to “Like” that. Neither is mine or Zuckerberg’s.

There’s probably a lot more I need to find out about dopamine, but for now it seems reasonable to think that if we are being rewarded for searching, then any system that allows us to search and discover will be addictive.

So relax, it’s not your fault you can’t stop checking your phone, it’s your brain’s.

Stoopid, dumb old brain!