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Computer-related Variants of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

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OCD is a neurobiological condition which is characterized by obsessions -- repetitive unwanted thoughts, ideas or images typically about harm (contamination, death of a loved one, violent or sexual thoughts) that intrude in the mind and won't let up and compulsions-repetitive behaviors (washing hands, counting, tapping, checking) to try to ward off perceived risk and harm.

Now we can talk about Internet related forms OCD. Like in classic OCD:

Unlike everyday worries, obsessions are experienced as disturbing, bizarre, senseless and counter to the  sense of himself (a devout Catholic has thoughts about cursing God; a loving child pictures stabbing his parents) and evoke dread, guilt, and discomfort.

Categories of OCD symptoms include:

The thoughts are so disturbing to the child that even though they make no sense (tapping everything four times to prevent harm to one's parents) the child feels compelled to believe the authority of those thoughts and comply with the commands.

Red flags:

Neurotic Needs 

Compulsive Attachments
Compulsive Aversions
  • achievement
  • work
  • productivity
  • respect of others
  • perfection
  • mastery
  • control
  • "shoulds"
  • orderliness
  • responsibility
  • systems
  • order
  • rules
  • high standards
  • doing things right
  • knowing what's best
  • doing things one's own way
  • details
  • doing better and trying harder
  • pushing oneself and others
  • criticalness
  • evaluating others' performances
  • directing
  • disapproving
  • punishing
  • perfectionistic standards
  • hoarding
  • parsimony 
  • failure to achieve
  • disrespect
  • imperfection
  • lack of control
  • helplessness
  • of being overwhelmed
  • of being unable to function
  • of being casual
  • of being irresponsible
  • of being self-indulgent
  • of being incompetent
  • weaknesses
  • disorganization
  • disorientation
  • flaws or defects in performance
  • mistakes
  • imperfections
  • substandard performance

Neurotic Beliefs and Attitudes 

Rationalizations and reinforcements of the compulsive attachments and aversions and the neurotic solution that they engender.

Aaron T. Beck and associates (pg. 361) 

Neurotic Solution

American Psychiatric Association (1994, pp. 672-73). Preoccupation with orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control.

Idealized Image

The neurotic "solution" is idealized (Horney, 1950, pg. 22)
John M.Oldham and Lois B. Morris (pp. 62-63)

"Call them the backbone of America. Conscientious-style people are the men and women of strong moral principle and absolute certainty, and they won't rest until the job is done and done right. They are loyal to their families, their causes, and their superiors. Hard work is a hallmark of this personality style; Conscientious types achieve. No accomplished doctor, lawyer, scientist, or business executive could get far without a substantial amount of Conscientious style in his or her personality pattern. Neither could a computer whiz, an efficient housekeeper, an accountant, a straight-A student, a good secretary -- or anyone else who works hard to do well. The Conscientious personality style flourishes within cultures such as ours in which the work ethic thrives. Conscientious traits -- hard work, prudence, conventionality -- may even confer a longevitity advantage. We address this style first among the fourteen because the Conscientious style is adaptable, common, and thus likely to be a principal component of many diverse personality profiles. Indeed, within our society so wide a range of Conscientious behaviors is considered normal, even admirable, that it may be hard to draw the line between the Conscientious personality style and the Obsessive-Compulsive personality disorder (p. 77) that marks its extreme. What are we to say about the man or woman who always takes a briefcase filled with work along on a vacation? Is he or she a workaholic who can't relax and is headed for an early heart attack? Or this a person who loves to work, thrives on challenge, and is bound for great things in his or her career? That depends on whether the style enriches the six domains of this person's life or controls and distorts them."

  1. Hardworking. . . ."dedicated to work, works very hard, and is capable of intense, single-minded effort."
  2. Righteous. . . ."is a person of conscience. These are men and women of strong moral principles and values. Opinions and beliefs on any subject are rarely held lightly. . . .want to do the right thing."
  3. Correct. "Everything must be done "right". . . .has a clear understanding of what that means, from the correct way to balance the checkbook, to the best strategy to achieve the boss's objectives, to how to fit every single dirty dish into the dishwasher."
  4. Perfectionistic. . . ."likes all tasks and projects to be complete to the final detail, without even minor flaws."
  5. Persevering. . . ."stick to their convictions and opinions. Opposition only serves to strengthen their dogged determination."
  6. Orderly and meticulaous. . . .like the appearance of orderliness and tidiness. They are good organizers, catalogers, and list makers. No detail is too small for consideration.
  7. Prudent. "Thrifty, careful, and cautious in all areas of their lives. . . .do not give in to reckless abandon or wild excess."
  8. Accumulative. "A 'pack rat'. . . .saves and collects things, reluctant to discard anything that has, formerly had, or someday may have value for him or her."

Attributes of the Idealized Image

  1. Industry, diligence.
  2. Scrupulousness, conscientiousness, dutifulness, responsibility, idealism, highmindedness.
  3. Deliberateness, judiciousness, rationality, logicalness, sensibility.
  4. Having high standards; trying to be complete, perfect; radical, persistent, thorough, thoroughgoing.
  5. Perseverance, tenacity, steadiness, firmness.
  6. Orderliness, tidiness, cleanliness, meticulousness.
  7. Prudence, self-control, self-restraint, carefulness, cautiousness, discipline.
  8. Frugality, thriftiness, saving, conserving.

Neurotic Pride

"While perfectionists condescendingly look down on others their arrogant contempt for others is often hidden" (Cooper, 116).

"Neurotic pride cannot endure anything less than perfection without extreme self-recrimination" (pg. 142).

"Expansive people tend to identify with their pride, whereas self-effacing people are afraid of it. This is one way of distinguishing self-effacing people from perfectionists, with whom they share many values. Both try to be good, dutiful and loyal; but perfectionists are proud of their virtue, whereas self-effacing people have a taboo against pride and must disclaim special merit" (Paris, pg. 210).

Neurotic Claims

"Horney indicates that the perfectionists' beliefs in their greatness are less naive than the narcissists, yet perfectionists, too, have an inflated expectation for complete justice. In other words, they are entitled to fair treatment in life because of their high standards. After all, they are fair, just, and dutiful, so how dare life not also contain an infallible justice! According to Horney, perfectionists hate all undeserved fortune, regardless of whether it is good or bad. This 'invalidates the whole accounting system'" (Cooper, pg. 116).

Perfectionist standards provide two important elements (a) being superior to others and (b) controlling life. (pg. 117).

"'Perfectionists demand "respect [from] others rather than glowing admiration" (NHG, 196) and a just reward for their rectitude'" (Cooper, pg. 141, quoting Paris, p. 208).

"As confirmation of his opinion of himself, he needs respect from others rather than glowing admiration (which he tends to scorn). Accordingly his claims are based less on a 'naive' belief in his greatness than (as we have described it in Chapter 2 on neurotic claims) on a 'deal' he had secretly made with life. Because he is fair, just, dutiful, he is entitled to fair treatment by others and by life in general. This conviction of an infallible justice operating in life gives him a feeling of mastery. His own perfection therefore is not only a means to superiority but also one to control life. The idea of undeserved fortune, whether good or bad, is alien to him. His own success, prosperity, or good health is therefore less something to be enjoyed than a proof of his virtue. Conversely, any misfortune befalling him-such as the loss of a child, an accident, the infidelity of his wife, the loss of a job-may bring this seemingly well-balanced person to the verge of collapse. He not only resents ill fortune as unfair but, over and beyond this, is shaken by it to the foundations of his psychic existence. It invalidates his whole accounting system and conjures up the ghastly prospect of helplessness" (Horney, 1950, pp. 196-97).

"Also, since he is as exacting on others as he is on himself, his influence on others is often cramping, especially if he is in an executive position" (pg. 315).

"The imposition of their standards on others leads perfectionists to admire a select few and to be critical or condescending toward the majority of humankind" (Paris, pg. 197).

"The bargain of the perfectionist is based on a legalistic conception of the world order: 'Because he is fair, just, dutiful, he is entitled to fair treatment by others and by life in general. This conviction of an infallible justice operating in life gives him a feeling of mastery'. Success is not a matter of luck or being the favorite of fortune, as it is for the narcissist, or of a superior shrewdness, talent, and ruthlessness, as it is for the arrogant-vindictive person; rather, it is a proof of virtue. Ill fortune could mean that the perfectionist was not really virtuous or that the world was unjust. Either conclusion shakes him 'to the foundations of his psychic existence', invalidating 'his whole accounting system' and conjuring up 'the ghastly prospect of helplessness'. If he recognizes 'an error or failure of his own making', self-effacing trends and self-hate may come to the fore (NHG, 197)" (Paris, pg. 198).

"Perfectionists demand 'respect from others rather than glowing admiration' (NHG, 196) and a just reward for their rectitude" (Paris, pg. 208).

Tyrannical Shoulds

"[P]erfectionists identify with their superior standards of behavior" (Cooper, pg. 116).

"The difficulties of the perfectionistic type are in some ways opposite [to the narcissistic type]. He works methodically and attends rather too meticulously to details. But he is so cramped by what he should do and how he should do it that there is no room left for originality and spontaneity. He is therefore slow and unproductive. Because of his exacting demands on himself he is easily overworked and exhausted (as is well known of the perfectionist housewife) and lets others suffer as a result" (Horney, 1950, pg. 315).

"They were made to feel worthless or guilty when they did not live up to their parents' demands, but by conforming to expectations they put themselves beyond reproach and gained a feeling of superiority" (Paris, pg. 197).

"Whereas narcissists identify with their claims, perfectionists identify with their shoulds, which are very strong indeed. They make strenuous efforts to measure up to their shoulds 'by fulfilling duties and obligations, by polite and orderly manners, by not telling obvious lies'. Their 'arrogant contempt of others' is hidden behind 'polished friendliness' because their shoulds 'prohibit such "irregular feelings"' (NHG, 196). They think they 'should be able to control every anxiety, no matter how deep it is, should never be hurt, and should never make a mistake' (NW, 207). Their judgment must always be correct, and they must perform all roles and tasks to perfection. Horney became aware of the power shoulds wield in her examination of perfectionism in New Ways in Psychoanalysis, but she later came to see that they exercise a coercive force in every solution" (Paris, pg. 206).

"Perfectionists cannot be perfect and cannot control their anxieties" (pp. 206-207).

"Perfectionists identify with their shoulds and look down on others from their lofty height. They make strenuous efforts to fulfill the shoulds and deal with their failures by equating standards with performance or by various forms of externalization. Because of the stringency of their inner dictates, perfectionists are often in rebellion against them and experience 'listlessness and inertia' in the face of what they are 'supposed to do or feel'" (pp. 207-208).


"The pride system tends to intensify the self-hate against which it is supposed to be a defense, since any failure to live up to one's tyrannical shoulds or of the world to honor one's claims leads to feelings of worthlessness" (Paris, IKHS).

"According to Horney, even perfectionsits often fail to recognize the manner in which they hold others in contempt because of shortcomings. Much of this is, of course, the projection of their own unconscious self-contempt" (Cooper, pg. 116).

"Neurotic pride cannot endure anything less than perfection without extreme self-recrimination" (pg. 142).

"[A]ny misfortune befalling him such as loss of a child, accident, the infidelity of his wife, the loss of a job-may bring this seemingly well-balanced person to the verge of collapse" (Horney, 1950, pg. 197).

"His other breaking points we mentioned when discussing the tyranny of the should: his recognition of an error or failure of his own making, and his finding himself caught between contradictory shoulds. Just as a misfortune pulls the ground away from under him, so does a realization of his own fallibility. Self-effacing trends and undiluted self-hate, kept in check successfully hitherto, then may come to the fore" (Horney, 1950, pg. 197).

See also

Karen Horney: Intrapsychic Strategies of Defense


American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-IV. 4th ed. Washington: Author.

Beck, Aaron T. and Freeman, Arthur M. and Associates (1990). Cognitive Therapy of Personality Disorders. New York : Guilford Press.

Terry D. Cooper (2003). Sin, Pride, and Self-Acceptance: The Problem of Identity in Theology and Psychology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Karen Horney (1939). New Ways in Psychoanalysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________(1942). Self-Analysis. New York: W. W. Norton.

___________ (1950). Neurosis and Human Growth. New York: W. W. Norton.

John M.Oldham and Lois B. Morris (1995). The New Personality Self-Portrait: Why You Think, Work, Love, and Act the Way You Do. Rev. ed. New York: Bantam.

Bernard J. Paris (1994). Karen Horney : A Psychoanalyst`s Search for Self-Understanding . New Haven, CT: Yale UP.

Bernard J. Paris. "Brief Account of Karen Horney." International Karen Horney Society.

Moving against others as Basic Strategy

"Moving against others is an attempt to alleviate interpersonal anxiety by conquering, defeating and dominating others. An excessive need to control one's surroundings is typical of this trend. Pride or excessive self-regard seems dominant. (Cooper, pg. 115).

Neurotic Needs

Of Horney's (1942, pp. 52-55) "Neurotic Needs"

4. The neurotic need for power:

4a. The neurotic need to control self and others through reason and foresight (a variety of 4 in people who are too inhibited to exert power directly and openly):

4b. The neurotic need to believe in the omnipotence of will (to use a somewhat ambiguous term, an introvert variety of 4 in highly detached people to whom a direct exertion of power means too much contact with others):

5. The neurotic need to exploit others and by hook or crook get the better of them:

6. The neurotic need for social recognition or prestige (may or may not be combined with a craving for power):

7. The neurotic need for personal admiration:

8. The neurotic ambition for personal achievement:

Idealized Image

"In the expansive solutions the individual prevailingly identifies himself with his glorified self. When speaking of 'himself' he means, with Peer Gynt, his very grandiose self. Or, as one patient put it, 'I exist only as a superior being'. The feeling of superiority that goes with this solution is not necessarily conscious but -- whether conscious or not -- largely determines behavior, strivings and attitudes toward life in general. The appeal of life lies in its mastery. It chiefly entails his determination, conscious or unconscious, to overcome every obstacle -- in or outside himself -- and the belief that he should be able, and in fact is able, to do so. He should be able to master the adversities of fate, the difficulties of a situation, the intricacies of intellectual problems, the resistances of other people, conflicts in himself. The reverse side of the necessity for mastery is his dread of anything connoting helplessness; this is the most poignant dread he has" (Horney, 1950, pp. 191-92).

Neurotic Pride

The expansive type takes pride in his strength, leadership, heroism, and omnipotence. (Cooper, pp. 115)

Neurotic Claims

Tyrannical Shoulds


"The pride system tends to intensify the self-hate against which it is supposed to be a defense, since any failure to live up to one's tyrannical shoulds or of the world to honor one's claims leads to feelings of worthlessness" (Paris, IKHS).


The expansive solution, or neurotic trend, seems to be predominant in:

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Old News ;-)

[Dec 29, 2019] I'll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done ." is a classic description of related set of manic behaviors

Dec 29, 2019 |
  1. likbez December 27, 2019 7:30 pm


    December 26, 2019 9:21 pm

    Likbez, the psychology today article you cite does not match your characterization of it, ie, " Browsing Web for relevant articles" in that it is discussing the effects of "aimlessly using the Internet, to no specific end" one could hardly characterize the work involved in Mark Thoma's or Yves Smith's aggregations as "aimless" or "to no specific end"

    True, but psychological mechanisms involved are identical. and require identical psychological pre-disposition.

    on the other hand, i didn't have any problem with your characterization of the aggregator's behavior as "a compulsive self-destructive obsession"; i certainly see the obsessive-compulsive behavior in my own work, and there is a self-destructiveness to it as well, as i'll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done .

    Yes, that's very apt description, thank you: "I'll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done ." is a classic description of related set of manic behaviors.

    A modern version of the "labor of Sisyphus", maybe ?

    The thing is that, however, that "Internet hoarder" or "Internet pack rat" ( fuzzy and not very accurate terms for a person with such a disorder) inevitably tend to expand the scope of aggregation and that inevitably lead to the burnout.

    In other words, I would like to stress here this particular and more limited danger.

  2. rjs December 27, 2019 8:39 pm

    likbez, my impression from a quick read of the psychology today article was that they were talking about people like gamers or youtubers, those whose activity was "aimless" so i disagree that "the psychological mechanisms involved are identical" to those that drive someone like mark thoma or yves smith

    in re the obsessive-compulsiveness of my work, i understand that you are critical but i understand that it is who i am; i've always been a workaholic when i worked for a major corporation (years ago), i'd go in on weekends, and would often put in 12 hour days even as a teenager, working for myself (over 50 years ago), i'd put in successive 18 hour days at what i was working on, often to the abandonment of everything else .the thing is, even back then i understood the Sisyphean nature of my work and i never had a problem with that; it's those who don't understand that who get themselves in trouble

    anyhow, this thread is not about me; i am just using myself to suggest the type of person you'd need to take over running Economist's View and as i said in my first comment here, i'm not volunteering

[Dec 27, 2019] Blogs and Internet addition: I ll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done

Dec 25, 2019 |

likbez , December 25, 2019 11:08 pm

Some random observations:

EconomistView deteriorated steadily during the last two years as Mark failed to update posts for several weeks, and comment threads became unmanageable, often exceeding 1K posts, but surprisingly the site still has a vibrant community of commenters.

Kind of the last refuge of retired persons still interested in both economics and politics. There is a special term for this category of people: "pikey vests" (playing on the fact that thermoregulation in older people is often broken and they prefer to put on more closing then younger people).

The meaning is similar to "armchair strategists" but with emphasis on the Dunning–Kruger effect -- a cognitive bias in which people assess their cognitive abilities as greater than they are. In other words, the complete inability of many people, especially seniors, to recognize their lack of ability (the effect quite visible in Trump ;-).

The term implies a verifiable tendency of the increase of the Dunning–Kruger effect with the age as it typically became really pronounced in many retired seniors, who become attracted to discussions about politics.

It looks to me that with time such blogs as Economist's View naturally become a refuge for pikey vests.

It is not that difficult to recreate a similar aggregator blog (may be on a better platform), but to launch it into the mainstream, you need to have your own strong personal or research interest in browsing Web for interesting links in which few people possess.

But for those two like browse the Web for interesting articles, this often became a compulsive self-destructive obsession that takes too much time and negatively affect their research work and their lives.

You also need a large dose of political correctness not to stray from neoliberal MSM views to much and be ostracized. Which kills the idea. So this is a delicate balancing act in which Thoma succeeded, but most wannabees might not.

Also, his status of a professor here helped with the patina of respectability and gave him a little bit more freedom than for mere mortals.

The problem here is how to attract meaningful commenters community which is difficult. Thoma post were at the beginning informative enough to accomplish this feat and attract many people. For the first several years his selections were interesting enough to browse his blog of a regular basis.

Later is became more questionable and many older commenters disappeared, but still comment threads were interesting.

in 2019 this community existed mainly due to inertia as quality of the blog deteriorated. Community also changed with very few survivors from earlier years (Paine, anne, ilism, Fred C. Dobbs).

The same process is observable in other blogs such as Naked Capitalism, which also had lost lion share of early commenters.

One unsolvable problems to un-moderated comment threads is that there are commenters who literally are powerful spam generators and who fill the threads with dozens of low quality posts. And you can do nothing about it.

At the same more heavy moderation like at creates animosity and makes the community an echo chamber of the blog owner views and more conformist then desirable. And as such far less interesting. Censored commenters often leave and never return.

The Economist's View blog recently became mostly political, not so much economic. The same trend can be observed with Naked Capitalism. That probably reflect that fact the economics in and by itself is mostly pseudo science (especially neoclassical economics with its mathiness and scholastic models which destroy students ability to think) and there is only political economy and econometrics

Another interesting effect is that most of active comments usually post their own links, which in some cases were much more interesting/ important then Thoma's links. So Thoma;'s links served as a catalyst for posting better links.

There were a couple of "super-reposters" and Anne was/is not much of a commenter as a "super-reposter". As run75441 correctly observed "Anne is fastidious" and simultaneously is an asset and the liability.

Another person with the same inclinations but without Anne tendency to post some useful statistical info from FED databases was/is Fred C. Dobbs. He actually reposted a useful article from NYT even in the last comment tread ( )

Like is typical in such blogs commenting community was polarized with two or three distinct camps (neoliberals/neocons and anti-neoliberals/neocons plus libertarians who were all over the place)

An interesting thing about this blog is that Thoma posts with the list of links generate much more vibrant discussion that posts with his short review of some articles (often Krugman, whom for some reason he like). So the blog became the aggregator blog very early in its existence.

Lately as Thoma lost interest in its maintainance, he switched exclusively "recommended links" style of posts, which gradually became more and more rare,

It's a bit sad to see the blogging culture in general is now losing steam, with much of the discussion moving on to Twitter and other social platforms.

run75441 , December 26, 2019 10:38 am


You could say so much more by saying less. What the hell is this string of descriptors "compulsive self-destructive obsession" of the subject? Could you pick one of the string to get your point across? I read your words and you appear to be obsessed with being heard or read.

likbez , December 26, 2019 8:18 pm

> You could say so much more by saying less.
That's always a good advice if one has time for editing. Thank you.
> What the hell is this string of descriptors "compulsive self-destructive obsession" of the subject?
You never run an aggregator blog and therefore is unable to understand what I am talking about:

1. Attracts a certain type of people who tend to overextend the scope of aggregation and then burn themselves doing so.

2. Browsing Web for relevant articles in and by itself can become self-reinforcing compulsive activity similar to addiction.

In male internet users, who reported using the Internet for 42 hours per week, those who displayed more symptoms of Internet addiction, such as experiencing more negative consequences of their internet use, feeling withdrawal symptoms when not using the Internet and an inability to control their internet use had less brain (grey) matter volume in an area of the brain known as the right frontal pole.

This area of the brain is part of the prefrontal cortex, and under activation of the prefrontal cortex is strongly linked to poor decision-making, addictive behaviour and willpower.

The study linked further differences in other areas of brain circuitry and excessive Internet use, and this overall pattern of difference associated with the brains of excessive Internet users resembles the changes in brain seen in substance addictions. As with all cross-sectional studies, the cause and effect is not clear. The brain changes may be due to excessive Internet use, but equally, brain volume differences could be a precondition for excessive Internet use.

rjs , December 26, 2019 9:21 pm

Likbez, the psychology today article you cite does not match your characterization of it, ie, " Browsing Web for relevant articles" in that it is discussing the effects of "aimlessly using the Internet, to no specific end" one could hardly characterize the work involved in Mark Thoma's or Yves Smith's aggregations as "aimless" or "to no specific end"

on the other hand, i didn't have any problem with your characterization of the aggregator's behavior as "a compulsive self-destructive obsession"; i certainly see the obsessive-compulsive behavior in my own work, and there is a self-destructiveness to it as well, as i'll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done .

Likbez Rls, Yes this is a very apt description: "i'll often forgo other activities and even eating decently to get my online work done .". But the problems here not only "labour of Sysphus' isse but also tendency to expand the scope of collection ("Internet pack rat" phenomenon) and this burden crashes the person leading to burnut .

[Sep 21, 2019] In Praise of Mediocrity by Tim Wu

Notable quotes:
"... But there's a deeper reason, I've come to think, that so many people don't have hobbies: We're afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation -- itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age -- that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our "hobbies," if that's even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be. ..."
"... If you're a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you're training for the next marathon. If you're a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby -- you're a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber -- you'd better be good at it, or else who are you? ..."
"... Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work. But alien values like "the pursuit of excellence" have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure, leaving little room for the true amateur. The population of our country now seems divided between the semipro hobbyists (some as devoted as Olympic athletes) and those who retreat into the passive, screeny leisure that is the signature of our technological moment. ..."
Oct 10, 2018 |

I'm a little surprised by how many people tell me they have no hobbies. It may seem a small thing, but -- at the risk of sounding grandiose -- I see it as a sign of a civilization in decline. The idea of leisure, after all, is a hard-won achievement; it presupposes that we have overcome the exigencies of brute survival. Yet here in the United States, the wealthiest country in history, we seem to have forgotten the importance of doing things solely because we enjoy them.

Yes, I know: We are all so very busy. Between work and family and social obligations, where are we supposed to find the time?

But there's a deeper reason, I've come to think, that so many people don't have hobbies: We're afraid of being bad at them. Or rather, we are intimidated by the expectation -- itself a hallmark of our intensely public, performative age -- that we must actually be skilled at what we do in our free time. Our "hobbies," if that's even the word for them anymore, have become too serious, too demanding, too much an occasion to become anxious about whether you are really the person you claim to be.

If you're a jogger, it is no longer enough to cruise around the block; you're training for the next marathon. If you're a painter, you are no longer passing a pleasant afternoon, just you, your watercolors and your water lilies; you are trying to land a gallery show or at least garner a respectable social media following. When your identity is linked to your hobby -- you're a yogi, a surfer, a rock climber -- you'd better be good at it, or else who are you?

Lost here is the gentle pursuit of a modest competence, the doing of something just because you enjoy it, not because you are good at it. Hobbies, let me remind you, are supposed to be something different from work. But alien values like "the pursuit of excellence" have crept into and corrupted what was once the realm of leisure, leaving little room for the true amateur. The population of our country now seems divided between the semipro hobbyists (some as devoted as Olympic athletes) and those who retreat into the passive, screeny leisure that is the signature of our technological moment.

I don't deny that you can derive a lot of meaning from pursuing an activity at the highest level. I would never begrudge someone a lifetime devotion to a passion or an inborn talent. There are depths of experience that come with mastery. But there is also a real and pure joy, a sweet, childlike delight, that comes from just learning and trying to get better. Looking back, you will find that the best years of, say, scuba-diving or doing carpentry were those you spent on the learning curve, when there was exaltation in the mere act of doing.

In a way that we rarely appreciate, the demands of excellence are at war with what we call freedom. For to permit yourself to do only that which you are good at is to be trapped in a cage whose bars are not steel but self-judgment. Especially when it comes to physical pursuits, but also with many other endeavors, most of us will be truly excellent only at whatever we started doing in our teens. What if you decide in your 40s, as I have, that you want to learn to surf? What if you decide in your 60s that you want to learn to speak Italian? The expectation of excellence can be stultifying.

Liberty and equality are supposed to make possible the pursuit of happiness. It would be unfortunate if we were to protect the means only to neglect the end. A democracy, when it is working correctly, allows men and women to develop into free people; but it falls to us as individuals to use that opportunity to find purpose, joy and contentment.

Lest this sound suspiciously like an elaborate plea for people to take more time off from work -- well, yes. Though I'd like to put the suggestion more grandly: The promise of our civilization, the point of all our labor and technological progress, is to free us from the struggle for survival and to make room for higher pursuits. But demanding excellence in all that we do can undermine that; it can threaten and even destroy freedom. It steals from us one of life's greatest rewards -- the simple pleasure of doing something you merely, but truly, enjoy.

Tim Wu ( @superwuster ) is a law professor at Columbia, the author of "The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads" and a contributing opinion writer. A version of this article appears in print on Sept. 30, 2018 , on Page SR 6 of the New York edition with the headline: In Praise of Mediocrity.

[Nov 08, 2018] Technology Detox The Health Benefits of Unplugging Unwinding by Sara Tipton

Notable quotes:
"... Another great tip is to buy one of those old-school alarm clocks so the smartphone isn't ever in your bedroom. ..."
Nov 07, 2018 |

Authored by Sara Tipton via,

Recent studies have shown that 90% of Americans use digital devices for two or more hours each day and the average American spends more time a day on high-tech devices than they do sleeping: 8 hours and 21 minutes to be exact. If you've ever considered attempting a "digital detox", there are some health benefits to making that change and a few tips to make things a little easier on yourself.

Many Americans are on their phones rather than playing with their children or spending quality family time together. Some people give up technology, or certain aspects of it, such as social media for varying reasons, and there are some shockingly terrific health benefits that come along with that type of a detox from technology. In fact, more and more health experts and medical professionals are suggesting a periodic digital detox; an extended period without those technology gadgets. Studies continue to show that a digital detox, has proven to be beneficial for relationships, productivity, physical health, and mental health. If you find yourself overly stressed or unproductive or generally disengaged from those closest to you, it might be time to unplug.


It may go unnoticed but there are many who are actually addicted to their smartphones or tablet. It could be social media or YouTube videos, but these are the people who never step away. They are the ones with their face in their phone while out to dinner with their family. They can't have a quiet dinner without their phone on the table. We've seen them at the grocery store aimlessly pushing around a cart while ignoring their children and scrolling on their phone. A whopping 83% of American teenagers claim to play video games while other people are in the same room and 92% of teens report to going online daily . 24% of those users access the internet via laptops, tablets, and mobile devices.

Addiction therapists who treat gadget-obsessed people say their patients aren't that different from other kinds of addicts. Whereas alcohol, tobacco, and drugs involve a substance that a user's body gets addicted to, in behavioral addiction, it's the mind's craving to turn to the smartphone or the Internet. Taking a break teaches us that we can live without constant stimulation, and lessens our dependence on electronics. Trust us: that Facebook message with a funny meme attached or juicy tidbit of gossip can wait.


Another benefit to keeping all your electronics off is that it will allow you to establish good mannerisms and people skills and build your relationships to a strong level of connection. If you have ever sat across someone at the dinner table who made more phone contact than eye contact, you know it feels to take a backseat to a screen. Cell phones and other gadgets force people to look down and away from their surroundings, giving them a closed off and inaccessible (and often rude) demeanor. A digital detox has the potential of forcing you out of that unhealthy comfort zone. It could be a start toward rebuilding a struggling relationship too. In a Forbes study , 3 out of 5 people claimed that they spend more time on their digital devices than they do with their partners. This can pose a real threat to building and maintaining real-life relationships. The next time you find yourself going out on a dinner date, try leaving your cell phone and other devices at home and actually have a conversation. Your significant other will thank you.


The sleep interference caused by these high-tech gadgets is another mental health concern. The stimulation caused by artificial light can make you feel more awake than you really are, which can potentially interfere with your sleep quality. It is recommended that you give yourself at least two hours of technology-free time before bedtime. The "blue light" has been shown to interfere with sleeping patterns by inhibiting melatonin (the hormone which controls our sleep/wake cycle known as circadian rhythm) production. Try shutting off your phone after dinner and leaving it in a room other than your bedroom. Another great tip is to buy one of those old-school alarm clocks so the smartphone isn't ever in your bedroom. This will help your body readjust to a normal and healthy sleep schedule.

Your eating habits can also suffer if you spend too much time checking your newsfeed. The Rochester Institute of Technology released a study that revealed students are more likely to eat while staring into digital media than they are to eat at a dinner table. This means that eating has now become a multi-tasking activity, rather than a social and loving experience in which healthy foods meant to sustain the body are consumed. This can prevent students from eating consciously, which promotes unhealthy eating habits such as overeating and easy choices, such as a bag of chips as opposed to washing and peeling some carrots. Whether you're an overworked college student checking your Facebook, or a single bachelor watching reruns of The Office , a digital detox is a great way to promote healthy and conscious eating.


Social media addicts experience a wide array of emotions when looking at the photos of Instagram models and the exercise regimes of others who live in exotic locations. These emotions can be mentally draining and psychologically unhealthy and lead to depression. Smartphone use has been linked to loneliness, shyness, and less engagement at work. In other words, one may have many "social media friends" while being lonely and unsatisfied because those friends are only accessible through their screen. Start by limiting your time on social media. Log out of all social media accounts. That way, you've actually got to log back in if you want to see what that Parisian Instagram vegan model is up to.

If you feel like a detox is in order but don't know how to go about it, start off small. Try shutting off your phone after dinner and don't turn it back on until after breakfast. Keep your phone in another room besides your bedroom overnight. If you use your phone as an alarm clock, buy a cheap alarm clock to use instead to lessen your dependence on your phone. Boredom is often the biggest factor in the beginning stages of a detox, but try playing an undistracted board game with your children, leaving your phone at home during a nice dinner out, or playing with a pet. All of these things are not only good for you but good for your family and beloved furry critter as well!

[Mar 27, 2018] Nearly Half of Parents Worry Their Child Is Addicted To Mobile Devices, Study Finds

Mar 27, 2018 |

( BeauHD on Thursday February 22, 2018 @06:50PM from the welcome-to-2018 dept. According to a new survey from Common Sense Media and SurveyMonkey, 47% of parents worry their child is addicted to their mobile device . By comparison, only 32% of parents say they're addicted themselves. USA Today reports: Half of parents also say they are at least somewhat concerned about how mobile devices will affect their kids' mental health. Nearly one in five say they're "extremely" or "very" concerned. According to the survey, 89% of parents believe it's up to them to curb their children's smartphone usage. The survey conducted between Jan. 25 and Jan. 29 included a sample of 4,201 adults, including 1,024 parents with children under age 18. Data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the U.S. for adults over 18, based on Census data. Many devices and services feature parental controls, but some parents may not be aware they exist. The Common Sense-SurveyMonkey survey found 22% of parents did not know YouTube -- which has faced scrutiny over how easy it is for kids to find inappropriate videos -- offered parental controls. Also, 37% have not used the controls before. Among parents surveyed who say their kids watch YouTube videos, 62% said their kids have seen inappropriate videos on the site. Most, or 81%, said it's the parents' job to prevent kids from seeing these videos.

[Jan 16, 2018] Social Media, the Dopamine Loop, and the Role of the Software Engineer naked capitalism

Not only social media, but also regular MSM web sites create a "dopamine loop" when the users spend unordinary amount of time browsing for news.
Notable quotes:
"... Children of Dune ..."
Jan 16, 2018 |

The existence of a "dopamine loop" created by social media likes and clicks is conventional wisdom in Silicon Valley, but I haven't been able to find the original science behind it. (It is possible that it's a phrase that is used because it sticks in the mind and makes the user sound authoritative, like "kompromat .") The Atlantic describes the dopamine loop as "neuroscience" (hmm) in 2012:

Thanks to neuroscience, we're beginning to understand that achieving a goal or anticipating the reward of new content for completing a task can excite the neurons in the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain, which releases the neurotransmitter dopamine into the brain's pleasure centers. This in turn causes the experience to be perceived as pleasurable. As a result, some people can become obsessed with these pleasure-seeking experiences and engage in compulsive behavior such as a need to keep playing a game, constantly check email, or compulsively gamble online. A recent Newsweek cover story described some of the harmful effects of being trapped in the compulsion loop.

... ... ...

And so let me circle round to the programmer. Here's an example of manipulating human nervous tissue at Instagram (owned by Facebook). From the Toronto Globe and Mail :

The makers of smartphone apps rightly believe that part of the reason we're so curious about those notifications is that people are desperately insecure and crave positive feedback with a kneejerk desperation. Matt Mayberry, who works at a California startup called Dopamine Labs, says it's common knowledge in the industry that Instagram exploits this craving by strategically withholding "likes" from certain users . If the photo-sharing app decides you need to use the service more often, it'll show only a fraction of the likes you've received on a given post at first, hoping you'll be disappointed with your haul and check back again in a minute or two. "They're tying in to your greatest insecurities," Mr. Mayberry said.


[1] I have a carefully curated list. Twitter is wonderful because a lot of journalists, writers, scientists, artists, and activists frequent it, so I get many fascinating links and insights from all over the world that I would never find otherwise. Twitter is horrible because it takes every aspect of American politics that is currently horrible, and amplifies it, and the short form may itself encourage more horribleness. On the whole, however, I prefer Twitter because I curate my news feed -- I suppose it could be said that I titrate my dosage -- and not Facebook's faceless engineers.

[2] Of course, neoliberalism produces plenty of desperation. "The good autocrat provides many opportunities for failure in the populace" –Frank Herbert, Children of Dune .

Lee , January 14, 2018 at 3:51 pm

The fact that people can't stop staring at and interacting with their phone screens while driving, walking, conversing, or even having sex, if news reports are to be believed, are indicative of the addictive nature of the technology. Or would "format" as opposed to "technology" be the more appropriate term? The "Technology" section on Google news page seems to consist largely of infomercials for social media.

Thomas Hilton , January 14, 2018 at 3:55 pm

I think this story raises an interesting, albeit fictional, account of why people use social media so much. I think that if one honestly mined the user population, they would find that dopamine rushes apply to only a segment of users – the socially insecure, which accounts for most children and many young adults. There is also the cofactor of the smartphone, which for some has become the technological equivalent of Linus' blue blanket.

You do see evidence from posts on FB that some people are seeking approval of their daily lifestyle. "Here I am at this club, this restaurant, this event, with this person." If they do not get many likes, do they patronize alternatives? Perhaps they seek reassurance that they are tasteful, "in," cool, not overdoing, etc.

As an elderly FB user, I grew up with computers (DARPANet, BITNET, the Internet), PCs, laptops, tablets, cellphones, palm pilots, smartphones, etc. These are tools for various purposes. When working, I would not tolerate people putting their smartphones on the meeting room table – it was/is a rude distraction. It was okay to use them for scheduling the next meeting date, or making a note of a new task. It was/is handy to have my rolodex IN my phone now, and a diary that vibrates to remind me of my next appointment – even in retirement! None of those uses smack of abusive use, and the vibration in my pocket does not produce a dopamine rush.

I find social media to be most useful to keep up with old friends scattered all over the world because smartphones make their sharing spontaneous. "Likes" for my peers are often ratifications that grandparenting is indeed gratifying, isn't it nice that we can travel, or sharing in the glee of a new puppy. Passe email, is still a wonder because we can daily share private ideas, experiences, new theories, or discuss world events just like when we were teens or in college. Lastly, there is blogs. Like NC, I learn more and faster what is going on in my world, and I can adjust the diversity of my input (which for me is quite high).

Lastl, from a neuroscience perspective, dopamine is often characterized as if it were an addictive neurotoxin like heroin or cocaine. We hear rants about how people are addicted to their iPhones (a metaphor of sorts for social media). Addiction is rarely likely to be the case, because craving is only one part of addiction. The other part is getting physically ill when you stop. Being cranky or preoccupied when deprived of social media is not illness – it is just annoying to others.

Toske , January 14, 2018 at 4:09 pm

""The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we've created are destroying how society works," he said, referring to online interactions driven by "hearts, likes, thumbs-up." "No civil discourse, no cooperation; misinformation, mistruth."

Likes makes right. Those posts with fewer likes become invisible compared to those with more. Having a discussion might lead one or both sides to learn something and come to a place of mutual understanding, if not agreement, but why bother with all that when it's a million times easier to simply block out disagreeing voices? Hell, the apps do that for you.

If you want likes, keep it simplistic, feel-good and humorous. Posting anything thought-provoking causes the dopamine machine gun to stutter, and that's poor form.

drumlin woodchuckles , January 14, 2018 at 4:33 pm

I remember reading/hearing that the "pleasure center" in the brain is supposed to be a real bunch of neurons which really exists. Dopamine is supposed to be one of the neurotransmitters secreted therein. Various other braincell fiber pathways are supposed to connect to it such that when survival-necessary activities send related sensory-stimulus impulses through those pathways, that some dopamine is secreted which makes the pleasure center make the brain-at-large feel good. The brain will seek more such feel-good dopamine-pellet rewards by driving the body to engage in more such survival-prolonging activities such as eating food or having procreational sex.

It is so much easier to use and to hear the 3-word-phrase "dopamine feedback loop".
Perhaps "dopamine feedback loop" is a metaphorical word-model for the whole process alluded to above, just as Niels Bohr's little solar system model was a metaphorical diagram-model for an "atom".

Regardless, getting users addicted to running in the dopamine hamster wheel is exactly what the social media engineers have been designing to achieve on purpose. Because every turn of the wheel generates more money for the social media platform owners who pay the social media engineers to do the engineering. Except for those founding social media engineers who founded the platforms themselves, like Zuckerberg. Their incentive to addict as many hamsters as possible to running in the dopamine wheel is even stronger.

Their statements of dismay are so much virtue signalling and mutual back patting. Their actions all say: more hamsters, please. And spin the wheels faster.

( I don't have a cell phone because cell phones cause cancer. I don't do facebook because facebook was never anything but a clever conspiracy to trick people into building dossiers on themselves. I don't do twitter because I don't have the energy or the desire to be known and followed. Reading and commenting on 3 or so blogs is the closest I come to running in the dopamine hamster wheel).

David , January 14, 2018 at 4:55 pm

I'm as anti these social media companies as anyone, and never use their products. But I wonder if some of their success doesn't come from kicking into an open goal.
We live in a society where people are lonely, isolated and insecure, and where they are officially encouraged to fight each other for financial or social/identity advantage. But people don't actually like doing this, and would rather be members of communities than be good liberal autonomy maximizers. But if you haven't got a real community any more, you're much more likely to adopt, and even use to excess, something that has the outward trappings of one.

Oregoncharles , January 15, 2018 at 1:29 am

"Dopamine" is just a trendy term for "reinforcement" or, before that, "pleasure."

So an important reminder: we're always – ALWAYS – "manipulating human nervous tissue." That's what it means to be an obligate social animal.

However, I have only a "dumb" phone (a lot of us, here on NC), and minimize my involvement with Facebook; not on Twitter at all.

Of course, with a recent rash of babies in my family (my siblings are suddenly grandparents – long generations in my family), I've been introduced to "23snaps," a picture-sharing platform. It's annoying, no matter how cute the babies are.

Disturbed Voter , January 15, 2018 at 9:27 am

i am addicted to Naked Capitalism, and proud of it. Both articles and comments.

DJG , January 15, 2018 at 9:35 am

I read Jaron Lanier's books, You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future?, when they came out. He has been skeptical of Facebook all along. He is also highly skeptical of EULA agreements–the idea that software is licensed to you and that the licenser then has access to your computer because you are not the owner. He also pointed out several years ago that certain assumptions about software, for instance, that text should go into a "file," have frozen innovation. As a musician, he is definitely not keen on musical software (neither the software for storing / playing music nor composition software).

The dopamine connection sounds like a bunch of quant majors searching for something from their required bio course. The problem with Facebook is that it is Pavlovian–you get approval and go back for more approval. Ding, ding, ding. The reason that the dopamine connection is popular is that it reinforces some currently received ideas about the chemical brain. Pavlov was about behavior: But criticizing behavior is so darn patriarchal and judgmental and old fashioned. With chemicals, no one has to answer for behavior. It's the fault of covalent bonding.

drumlin woodchuckles , January 15, 2018 at 8:18 pm

The brain either has chemicals in it or it doesn't. If it does, the people who understand that fact and figure out how to study what those chemicals have to do with what will know more than those people who don't understand that fact and don't study anything to do with that fact or how it operates.

JEHR , January 15, 2018 at 12:11 pm

I made a conscious decision to not belong to Facebook, to cancel Twitter, and to not use a cell-phone except for its communication as a phone-thing. If we human beings had used our techno time to help solve some of earth's problems (pollution, climate change, over-population, poverty, inequality, etc.) we would have been on the path of solving these most important problems already. Technology of the type named basically keeps us from confronting and resolving these most important problems. Another fear I have of the overuse of technology (along with a world run by billionaires) is the weakening and finally the breaking down of democracy itself.

lyman alpha blob , January 15, 2018 at 2:12 pm

I will just say thank you for not having any type of 'likes' on NC. I enjoy the fact that here, people's words stand on their own and people can make up their own minds what to think.

And these days, how many 'likes' or 'followers' or whatever are from real human beings as opposed to bots? Seem to remember reading about a whole cottage industry where one could purchase followers to make themselves seem more popular.

XXYY , January 15, 2018 at 3:26 pm

But what about the software engineers who also "did it anyway"? That horrid little piece of manipulation -- "strategically withholding 'likes'" -- was implemented by a team. There was a manager, there was a whiteboard, there were design sessions, there was testing, there was coding, all for software engineered to treat humans like cattle.

Another industry that has been in this business a long time is the gambling and casino industry. Slot machines, video poker, etc., are also software constructions explicitly designed to engage users as strongly as possible and keep them engaged for as long as possible, in order to generate as much profit as possible.

By Facebook standards, gaming machines are quite crude: perform some physical act, then get monetary reimbursement (or not), repeat. It's straight variable-ratio reinforcement, as the behaviorists used to say. But it seems to work quite well, and no one can say it isn't intentional.

False Solace , January 15, 2018 at 6:29 pm

A few things leap to mind:

It should be noted that no ethically-trained software engineer would ever consent to write a DestroyBaghdad procedure. Basic professional ethics would instead require him to write a DestroyCity procedure, to which Baghdad could be given as a parameter.

-- quoting Nathaniel Borenstein here

Also this post from Clean Coder, about the VW diesel fraud and the engineer who's going to prison for "just following orders":

Imagine the scene in that meeting room. What was said? What was agreed to? We may never know all the details; but it's clear that the executives asked the engineers to find a way to defeat the emission tests.

Now think of the engineers. What a cool problem to have to solve? No, really! Imagine how much fun it would be to figure out some sneaky way to bypass the emission test. [snip]

Imagine the brainstorming, the "good" ideas. The coolness of knowing that there's a really nifty solution to this problem.

Imagine how pleased the executives would be with this really cool engineering solution. Imagine how proud the engineers were.

I have to say that many programmers are very young, and mostly male, and when in groups, for whatever reason, I've observed among them a distinct lack of empathy, a lack of worldly wisdom and questioning, and an inability to imagine any other kind of life experience than what the engineer has personally known, no matter how well intentioned the individual is (and they are sometimes rather the opposite). Meanwhile the much more experienced, worldly and wise managers stand over the coding team, giving direction and applause and monetary rewards for every bit of "cleverness" the team comes up with, no matter how deranged. Every incentive is in favor of sociopathic mindless greed. And who goes to prison when something goes wrong? The engineer.

Robert Martin's speech "The Scribes' Oath" from GOTO 2017 also comes to mind. (The video is very easy to find on Youtube, but the URL is blocked where I work so I'm not able to provide it.) I've only read his "code of conduct" so I'm not certain whether his speech goes into the ethics of certain programming decisions, as opposed to strictly technical decisions. If there were some sort of "oath" required for the programming profession, I would hope it placed ethical and moral considerations much more highly than merely technical ones like requiring unit tests or not blocking other people's commits. While the scribes in ancient Egypt were highly valued and technically skilled, they fundamentally served autocratic power. And it is the same for us.

False Solace , January 15, 2018 at 6:33 pm

From another post by Clean Coder:

If we had a real profession, those programmers would be brought before that profession, investigated, and if found guilty, drummed out of the profession in disgrace.

-- "VW" 14 October 2015

Of course, we don't have a real profession. Just some mystique stolen from actual engineers.

jrs , January 15, 2018 at 11:01 pm

Well if it was a profession there would be some kind of job protections as well maybe. But haha. So maybe people just do it because if they don't some H1B will.

How actual weakening of peoples morality goes is: one may start out all idealistic and moral, but in order to stay employed or get employment one gradually must compromise more and more and one HAS TO deaden themselves to the effect of this compromising. So one may start out idealistic at 20 but chances are one isn't going to be such an idealist by the time they reach 50, oh heck one would sell their soul several times over just to get a job by the time they reach 50

Tuan , January 15, 2018 at 7:21 pm

So if we can do this affirmation gig ad infinitum on FB, why can't we do it in the flesh then???

Feeling puzzled .

Anonymous Coward , January 15, 2018 at 10:40 pm

Nir Eyal wrote a whole book in this topic called Hooked.

There is a ton of skepticism here, but keeping people in anticipation of the next hit is why there is endless scroll on the most time sucking applications

[Nov 28, 2017] The Attention Deficit Society What Technology Is Doing to Our Brains

Notable quotes:
"... When I grew up, there was the concept of "substitute gratification" ranging over thumbsucking, substance use, casual TV watching, and other compulsive behaviors, all of which emerge in response to frustration and are magically absent when a better gratification is available, whether intellectual stimulation of otherwise. ..."
May 07, 2011 | Economist's View


There is undoubtedly a habit-forming component where the lever pressing becomes compulsive at some point. But I have found myself as well as heard the same from peers, that especially in a workplace setting there is a large boredom-killing aspect.

As engineers, we do get opportunity to work on interesting or at least intellectually challenging and satisfying things. When you are on something like this, there is no urge to text, check updates, etc. But as soon as you get stuck on some issue and frustration sets in, or you are made to partake in office bureaucracy and other unpleasantries, boredom kicks in.

When I grew up, there was the concept of "substitute gratification" ranging over thumbsucking, substance use, casual TV watching, and other compulsive behaviors, all of which emerge in response to frustration and are magically absent when a better gratification is available, whether intellectual stimulation of otherwise.

[Nov 28, 2017] The Attention Deficit Society What Technology Is Doing to Our Brains

May 07, 2011 | Economist's View


There is undoubtedly a habit-forming component where the lever pressing becomes compulsive at some point. But I have found myself as well as heard the same from peers, that especially in a workplace setting there is a large boredom-killing aspect.

As engineers, we do get opportunity to work on interesting or at least intellectually challenging and satisfying things. When you are on something like this, there is no urge to text, check updates, etc. But as soon as you get stuck on some issue and frustration sets in, or you are made to partake in office bureaucracy and other unpleasantries, boredom kicks in.

When I grew up, there was the concept of "substitute gratification" ranging over thumbsucking, substance use, casual TV watching, and other compulsive behaviors, all of which emerge in response to frustration and are magically absent when a better gratification is available, whether intellectual stimulation of otherwise.

[Nov 23, 2016] Quit Social Media. Your Career May Depend on It

Nov 23, 2016 |
( 184 Posted by msmash on Monday November 21, 2016 @12:20PM from the dilemma dept.

The New York Times ran a strong opinion piece that talks about one critical reason why everyone should quit social media: your career is dependent on it. The other argues that by spending time on social media and sharing our thoughts, we are demeaning the value of our work, our ideas . (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source .)

Select excerpts from the story follows:

In a capitalist economy, the market rewards things that are rare and valuable. Social media use is decidedly not rare or valuable. Any 16-year-old with a smartphone can invent a hashtag or repost a viral article. The idea that if you engage in enough of this low-value activity, it will somehow add up to something of high value in your career is the same dubious alchemy that forms the core of most snake oil and flimflam in business.

Professional success is hard, but it's not complicated. The foundation to achievement and fulfillment, almost without exception, requires that you hone a useful craft and then apply it to things that people care about. [...] Interesting opportunities and useful connections are not as scarce as social media proponents claim. In my own professional life, for example, as I improved my standing as an academic and a writer, I began receiving more interesting opportunities than I could handle. As you become more valuable to the marketplace, good things will find you.

To be clear, I'm not arguing that new opportunities and connections are unimportant. I'm instead arguing that you don't need social media's help to attract them. My second objection concerns the idea that social media is harmless. Consider that the ability to concentrate without distraction on hard tasks is becoming increasingly valuable in an increasingly complicated economy. Social media weakens this skill because it's engineered to be addictive. The more you use social media in the way it's designed to be used -- persistently throughout your waking hours -- the more your brain learns to crave a quick hit of stimulus at the slightest hint of boredom.

Once this Pavlovian connection is solidified, it becomes hard to give difficult tasks the unbroken concentration they require, and your brain simply won't tolerate such a long period without a fix. Indeed, part of my own rejection of social media comes from this fear that these services will diminish my ability to concentrate -- the skill on which I make my living.

A dedication to cultivating your social media brand is a fundamentally passive approach to professional advancement. It diverts your time and attention away from producing work that matters and toward convincing the world that you matter. The latter activity is seductive, especially for many members of my generation who were raised on this message, but it can be disastrously counterproductive.

[Jul 24, 2015] How Walking in Nature Changes the Brain

Jul 24, 2015 | The New York Times

A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the process, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health, according to an interesting new study of the physical effects on the brain of visiting nature.

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

But just how a visit to a park or other green space might alter mood has been unclear. Does experiencing nature actually change our brains in some way that affects our emotional health?

That possibility intrigued Gregory Bratman, a graduate student at the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources at Stanford University, who has been studying the psychological effects of urban living. In an earlier study published last month, he and his colleagues found that volunteers who walked briefly through a lush, green portion of the Stanford campus were more attentive and happier afterward than volunteers who strolled for the same amount of time near heavy traffic.

But that study did not examine the neurological mechanisms that might underlie the effects of being outside in nature.

So for the new study, which was published last week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Mr. Bratman and his collaborators decided to closely scrutinize what effect a walk might have on a person's tendency to brood.

Brooding, which is known among cognitive scientists as morbid rumination, is a mental state familiar to most of us, in which we can't seem to stop chewing over the ways in which things are wrong with ourselves and our lives. This broken-record fretting is not healthy or helpful. It can be a precursor to depression and is disproportionately common among city dwellers compared with people living outside urban areas, studies show.

Perhaps most interesting for the purposes of Mr. Bratman and his colleagues, however, such rumination also is strongly associated with increased activity in a portion of the brain known as the subgenual prefrontal cortex.

If the researchers could track activity in that part of the brain before and after people visited nature, Mr. Bratman realized, they would have a better idea about whether and to what extent nature changes people's minds.

Mr. Bratman and his colleagues first gathered 38 healthy, adult city dwellers and asked them to complete a questionnaire to determine their normal level of morbid rumination.

The researchers also checked for brain activity in each volunteer's subgenual prefrontal cortex, using scans that track blood flow through the brain. Greater blood flow to parts of the brain usually signals more activity in those areas.

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people's minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

They also had less blood flow to the subgenual prefrontal cortex. That portion of their brains were quieter.

These results "strongly suggest that getting out into natural environments" could be an easy and almost immediate way to improve moods for city dwellers, Mr. Bratman said.

But of course many questions remain, he said, including how much time in nature is sufficient or ideal for our mental health, as well as what aspects of the natural world are most soothing. Is it the greenery, quiet, sunniness, loamy smells, all of those, or something else that lifts our moods? Do we need to be walking or otherwise physically active outside to gain the fullest psychological benefits? Should we be alone or could companionship amplify mood enhancements?

"There's a tremendous amount of study that still needs to be done," Mr. Bratman said.

But in the meantime, he pointed out, there is little downside to strolling through the nearest park, and some chance that you might beneficially muffle, at least for awhile, your subgenual prefrontal cortex.

[May 28, 2015] 5 reasons why you shouldn't work too hard

The Washington Post

Forget Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia spinning in a blur with her leg impossibly held straight up against her ear. The sight of skier Bode Miller collapsing with emotion at the end of a race dedicated to his brother while NBC cameras lingered uncomfortably on the long shot. Or even jubilant Noelle Pikus-Pace climbing into the stands to race into her family's arms after her silver medal finish in the Skeleton.

The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.

"Why do we work so hard? For stuff?" actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. "Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. "Off," he says again, to reinforce the point.

"Why aren't you like that? Why aren't WE like that?"

The first time the commercial aired during the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, the slight pause after those two questions made me hopeful. I sat up to listen closely.

Was he about to say – we should be more like that? Because Americans work among the most hours of any advanced country in the world, save South Korea and Japan, where they've had to invent a word for dying at your desk. (Karoshi. Death from Overwork.) We also work among the most extreme hours, at 50 or more per week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American works about one month more a year than in 1976.

Was he going to say that we Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of "work-and-spend" – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all?

Would he talk about how we Americans, alone among the advanced economies, whose athletes are competing between the incessant commercials with such athleticism and grace, have no national vacation policy. (So sacrosanct is time off in some countries that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2012 that workers who get sick on vacation are entitled to take more time off "to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.").

American leisure? Don't let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They're becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.

Americans don't have two "nurture days" per child until age 8, as Denmark does. No year-long paid parental leaves for mothers and fathers, as in Iceland. Nor a national three-month sabbatical policy, which Belgium has.

Instead of taking the entire month of August off, the most employers voluntarily grant us American workers tends to be two weeks. One in four workers gets no paid vacation or holidays at all, one study found. And, in a telling annual report called the "Vacation Deprivation" study, travel company Expedia figures that Americans didn't even USE 577 million of those measly vacation days at all last year.

Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013 Center for Economic and Policy Research, May 2013

So as I watched the Cadillac commercial, hanging onto that rich white guy's pause, I was hoping he'd make a pitch to bring some sanity to American workaholic culture. It wouldn't have been a first for the auto industry. Henry Ford outraged his fellow industrialists when he cut his workers' hours to 40 a week. (Standards in some industries at the time were for 12-hour workdays, 7 days a week.) Ford did so because his internal research showed 40 hours was as far as you could push manual laborers in a week before they got stupid and began making costly mistakes. He also wanted his workers to have the leisure time to buy and use his cars.

The rich guy takes a breath and smirks. We work so much "Because we're crazy, driven hard-working believers, that's why."

Bill Gates. The Wright Brothers. Were they crazy? He asks. We went to the moon and, you know what we got? Bored, he says.

"You work hard. You create your own luck. And you've gotta believe anything is possible." Fair enough. "As for all the stuff?" he says as he knowingly unplugs his luxury electric car, "that's the upside of only taking TWO weeks off in August, n'est ce pas?"

[Nov 10, 2013] A Force for Face-to-Face Communication By MATT RICHTEL

He participated in groundbreaking work that showed that people who regularly multitasked tended actually to be less good at juggling tasks then people who were light multitaskers. He theorized that heavy multitasking made people worse at juggling tasks because it prompted them to have shorter attention spans
November 4, 2013

Clifford I. Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford who died on Saturday, regaled me several times over the years about his method for torturing students in the undergraduate dorm hall where he was an adviser. He would make them communicate face to face.

No devices, no texts or tweets - and no phone calls. Those were his rules on what he called face-to-face day, a periodic experiment he ran in the dorm. He said the day was a chance for students to experience life without their digital intermediaries.

The results troubled and humored Dr. Nass, who had an unkempt shock of hair and a voice that went high when he got excited. Some students, he said, would struggle to look one another in the eye and deal with basic social issues because they had become so accustomed to handling those interactions in digital bursts.

"One time, a student came up to me and said, 'Dr. Nass, that was really hard!'" he related, describing a conversation that took place after one face-to-face day. The student asked him: "'What should I do to make it easier?'"

And Dr. Nass, his voice rising to the point of cracking and breaking into a laugh, said he told her: "You ought to try doing it more often!"

Stanford News Service said that Dr. Nass collapsed during a hike on Saturday. He was 55.

Dr. Nass did far more than make students interact. He did pioneering work on multitasking and its impact on behavior and the brain. He participated in groundbreaking work that showed that people who regularly multitasked tended actually to be less good at juggling tasks then people who were light multitaskers. He theorized that heavy multitasking made people worse at juggling tasks because it prompted them to have shorter attention spans - although his experiments did not prove whether heavy multitasking caused short attention spans or if people prone to multitasking had shorter attention spans to begin with.

David Strayer, a neuroscientist at the University of Utah who studies the dangers of multitasking while driving, told me that "Cliff was one of the most creative and enthusiastic people I've met," and that he was "instrumental in helping us understand how modern technology is changing who and what we are."

Dr. Nass was recently studying whether heavy use of digital communication tools - including texting, Facebook and other media - was hampering empathy. A basic human ability is reading one another's faces, which helps people deal with confrontation and conflict in an immediate and healthy way. Without basic day-to-day interaction, he theorized, people would begin to lose their ability to deal ably with challenging situations, big and small.

Obsessive, Compulsive, Impulsive, and Passive Aggressive Behavior by James Kent

Obsessive, Compulsive, Impulsive, and Passive Aggressive Behavior

by James Kent

Chapter 27: Psychedelic Information Theory

There are volumes that can be written on compulsive personality disorders; in fact I have compulsively rewritten this chapter so many times you might say I have become obsessive about trying to cover it all. Alternately, there have been periods of times where I passive-aggressively avoided even thinking about this chapter because the topic is so complex as to be overwhelming. There is so much to say about the emotional spectrum that encompasses obsessive-compulsive, impulsive, and passive-aggressive behaviors: There's the clinical definitions; the psychopharmacology; the ego structures that create inner conflict between primal compulsion and learned repression; not to mention the extreme range of strange behaviors elicited while under the influence of psychedelics, which could easily fill an encyclopedia of strange behavior. But I lump all of these conditions together because they all have a similar theme: they represent people acting out of character, with limited rationality, typically driven by subconscious forces they don't fully understand. All human behavior is a balancing act between primal compulsions and civilized repression, and walking this behavioral tight-rope is commonly referred to as "behaving like a normal person," something we are all trained to do as young children. But when we lose the ability to perform this balancing act between compulsion and repression we develop what are called "problem" behaviors, behaviors which often get lumped into the obsessive, compulsive, impulsive, and passive-aggressive categories.

As I discussed in earlier, there is strong evidence that an individual's feelings of contentment, confidence, safety, and well-being are all modulated by the balance of serotonin in the brain, and it is safe to assume that anything that disrupts the action of seratonin uptake in the brain (such as psychedelics) will most-likely upset that general sense of well-being. And naturally, when a person's sense of well-being is disrupted, and that disruption is then distorted through an amplifying lens, that person may react in strange and compulsive ways in an attempt to right that dramatic imbalance. These actions may take the form of overtly uncharacteristic behaviors; impulsive behaviors; circular or obsessively repetitious behaviors; avoidance behaviors; passively withdrawn behaviors; or the complete inability to deal with anything. I could try to put clinical labels on all these behaviors, call them compulsive or passive aggressive or passive avoidance or whatever you want, but the truth is that it is difficult to lump all of these erratic behaviors together into one single label or category. What I can is say that these strange behaviors are common, that they happen on almost every trip, and they manifest in direct response to anxiety generated within the psychedelic state. These erratic behaviors may range from mild to extreme, but every psychedelic explorer should be warned of these side effects and understand that there is a very real possibility that any one or any number of these behaviors could spontaneously erupt on your typical psychedelic trip.

Obsessive Compulsive Behavior

Throughout the course of this text I have talked about the cyclical "traps" of psychedelic use; recursive loops, anxiety spirals, infinite analytical regressions, and so on. All of these traps are based on the notion of repetition and feedback, of being stuck in an infinite loop of perception and ideation, replaying the same thought or behavior over and over through endless permutations, ad infinitum. There are many good visual and audio metaphors for runaway feedback in the psychedelic state - fractals, echoes, video feedback, audio feedback, audio delay, visual trails, etc. - but the best behavioral metaphor for this cyclical processing trap is obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD: The pathological need to repeat the same thought or task over and over again.

While the common perception of OCD tends towards people who compulsively eat, shop, gamble, masturbate, or wash their hands (or whatever), the truth is that OCD manifests in almost every person in some way or another in some point in their lives. Some might argue that because we get hungry or sleepy every few hours that eating and sleeping are de facto compulsions we are obsessive about, but technically OCD is not diagnosed as a disorder unless the compulsive activity has reached a point where it becomes unhealthy or disrupts the activities of a normal life. OCD activities are almost always tied to biologically driven reward behaviors like eating, mating, hoarding, and hygiene. Alcoholism and drug addiction are also closely related to OCD, even though they are not strictly based on compulsions of organism survival. However, addictive drugs tend to effortlessly satisfy and suppress the base biological compulsions that lead to OCD, so self-medicating and addiction/reward behavior are also intimately linked to this disorder. From a clinical standpoint, OCD is suspected to involve both the serotonin uptake system and the dopamine reward system, meaning that people with OCD feel compelled to perform a specific task to feel "better" (correct a seratonin imbalance), but get no lasting feeling of completion or satisfaction when they do (insufficient dopamine reward). This imbalance creates a loop of repetitive behaviors that keep the subject mindlessly occupied in seeking the rewarding behavior (food, money, sex, cleanliness, etc.) without ever feeling that the task has been sufficiently completed.

For the sake of clarifying definitions when it comes to behavioral types, it is safe to say that people who are serious about psychedelics tend to become obsessive about their drug use; they study psychedelic lore and spend long periods of time planning and analyzing their psychedelic trips. However, it is the uncommon few who are actually compulsive about their psychedelic use, meaning that they must take psychedelics all the time because they just can't help themselves. This is almost never the case, and psychedelics are not traditionally addictive drugs in that they do not effortlessly fulfill base biological compulsions for quick pleasure and reward; the opposite is true. If anything, psychedelics tend to exacerbate existing compulsions and make people obsess more, but this is certainly not always the case. If used in the right clinical or shamanic setting, psychedelics can actually interrupt pre-existing cycles of obsession and compulsion and act as short-term "cures" for OCD and addiction. But when taken in less structured environments there is a good chance psychedelics will produce OCD-like behaviors or exacerbate preexisting OCD conditions, particularly in the earlier parts of the trip.

For instance, I was home alone one weekend, and since it had been a while since my last trip I decided that I would take a small dose of LSD and simply enjoy the afternoon. My plan was to turn off the phone and relax, maybe spend some time in the garden, maybe have dinner and watch a movie later, nothing big. I had straightened up all the clutter before I took the LSD, but now that I was coming on my senses were sharper and I could see all the grime built up on the floors and walls. Sticky spots on the floor sprang out at me; dark smudges and fingerprints trailed across the walls (how long had they been there?); layers of dust crept across all the surfaces; and there was a strong urine stench coming from the bathroom (ugh, the bathroom was unbearable!). Anyway, the fact that there hadn't been a good housecleaning in few months screamed at me and compelled me to spend the entire day cleaning the house, up and down, top to bottom, scrubbing, mopping, sweeping, dusting, the works. I became a total house-wife on crack. I couldn't stop. As I sat hunched on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor with a sponge I realized I was being silly, and I kept thinking that I should stop cleaning and go out to the garden and dig in the dirt for a while, but I couldn't stop. The thought of digging in the garden outside while mildew forests continued to slime over my shower walls was unacceptable. I had to "fix it" before I could relax, and I did not relax for the entire trip. I cleaned right through the LSD peak, stopping later in the day to eat dinner, drink many beers, clean more, and finally collapse into a stupor in front of the TV late in the evening. I never stepped foot out the door that day, nor got to any of the other things I had planned for the weekend, but my house was now spotless and spring fresh. It had been an obsessive-compulsive housecleaning trip, and it came out of nowhere. The irony was that when I finally got my consciousness elevated I realized that I was living in filth. What else could I do?

Obsessive-compulsive disorders can appear in many forms throughout the course of a psychedelic session, most commonly in the obsessive repetition of thoughts, speech, and behaviors, sometimes referred to as "thought loops" or "ticks" that get stuck in your brain and just keep spinning round and round. While obsessive side effects from psychedelics may be more fleeting and scattered that those of classic OCD disorders, there are definitely obsessive trips that exactly mirror classic OCD with the constant need to repeat particular thoughts, phrases, or behaviors. These behaviors can be as mild as rocking back and forth while turning the same melody over and over and over in your head, or they can be as extreme as scratching one spot until it bleeds, shaving off all of your body hair, or something similarly gruesome. The spectrum of compulsive behaviors ranges from harmless to violent, and hand-washing, rocking, or tune-humming is a long way from self-mutilation or violent acting out. Understanding the difference between fleeting compulsions, obsessive compulsions, and self-destructive compulsions is really the key here. Fleeting compulsions are typically harmless and to be expected; obsessive compulsions stick with you and get stronger, compelling you to act on them until you break the obsessive cycle; and self-destructive compulsions force you to act irrationally against your own best interests. It goes without saying that once someone begins acting violent and irrational that the party is over. Although it is rare, it does happen. High doses of psychedelics can be extremely dangerous, and anyone who experiments with psychedelics or who "baby sits" for someone on psychedelic drugs should fully understand this spectrum of compulsive behavior and be prepared to deal with violent freak-outs before going into high-dose territory with novice users.

Although obsessive ideation can also apply to pleasing thoughts and sensations, it is typically the "bummers" that are remembered in terms of being "trapped" or "stuck in a loop." Being stuck in a loop of house-cleaning or ecstatic bliss may not be as traumatic as, say, being stuck in a loop of murderous paranoia, but the psychedelic mind can lock onto any obsession without warning, and the catalyst or object of the obsessive psychedelic spiral can be anything that grabs the subject's attention. This is an extremely important thing to remember when trying to help someone who is "stuck" in an unpleasant loop. Attempting to interrupt obsessive ideation in the middle of a psychedelic trip is essentially trying to fight upstream against pharmacology. Obsessive bummers must either "run their course" or be derailed and moved sideways into another obsessive trip centered on a new, less-traumatic topic. The task of "talking down" a person who is having a bummer on psychedelics is not about trying to convince them they are wrong to be obsessive about something, it is more a challenge of keeping them preoccupied with new tangents and thoughts that move them progressively away from the locus of the negative obsession and towards something more positive. The meat of this task can be summed up in a phrase I heard one tripping friend jokingly say to another who was having a hard time: "Don't think about the dead puppy. Here, smell this flower." This was a joke, of course, there was no dead puppy, but the levity of the comment lightened everyone's mood instantly. When confronting situations like these, absurdity and humor often work better than logic.

Compulsive & Impulsive Ideation

I can't positively say that everyone who takes psychedelics has obsessive or impulsive ideas on every trip, but I can honestly say that most people who experiment with psychedelics have at least a few mildly bizarre compulsions come to them at some time or another. At the extreme end these compulsions can be grandiose, superhuman, and absurd (feeling you are indestructible; running around naked claiming you are Jesus; etc.), but the more disturbing psychedelic themes include graphic sexual ideation; violent ideation; excessive morbidity; and grotesque ideation. For instance, one friend told me about an LSD trip where he could not shake the idea of cutting his friend's fingers off. His friend had done nothing to offend him, and he had no idea why he felt that way, he just really felt the urge to cut her fingers off and couldn't stop thinking about it. The fact that he initially had the idea to cut off his friend's fingers really disturbed him, and once the thought entered his mind he could not shake it: it haunted him. Instead of laughing it off or forgetting it, he obsessed over the fact that he might be a psychopath, or that deep down he really wanted to hurt his friend, and that he couldn't trust his own thoughts or actions. This is a prime example of how psychedelics can turn a fleeting notion into an obsessive spiral that imprints strongly on memory, affecting you long after the trip itself is over.

I must say that I have never been driven to shave my head or mutilate myself or anything of that kind while under the influence of psychedelics, but I can say honestly that I have certainly thought about some crazy things. I realized very early on in my psychedelic experimentation that I should just expect random crazy thoughts and compulsions to pop into my head at any time, and that this is pretty much par for the course when working with these substances. This did not keep me from feeling compulsions while on psychedelics, but it did help me learn to question my actions before doing anything too stupid. For instance, while on psychedelics I have occasionally found myself doing strange things that I would not normally do, like hiking off of a marked trail and down into a steep ravine just because I wanted to get to the river down below, or climbing a sheer rock face freehand with no tools just to see if I could do it. But when I found myself halfway up the rock face staring down at the jagged rocks below, I realized there was no way I would ever attempt to climb the rock face sober because it was crazy. I wasn't even wearing the right shoes, I could have easily slipped and fallen. I knew that if I got to the top it would be one of the greatest experiences of my life, but I also realized that I was being stupid and was risking my life for no good reason, so I climbed down. It sounds silly in retrospect, but events like this one helped make it a rule for me early-on that I would never attempt death-defying feats while high on psychedelics, it just seemed like a good rule of thumb.

Avoiding potential death situations on psychedelics should be a no-brainer, but let's go back to the example of walking off a marked trail and heading down into a steep ravine just to get to the river. Is that technically death-defying, or is that just exploring the boundaries of known reality? There is a fine line here that is difficult to describe, but there is that point in any psychedelic trip where you know you are about to do something you wouldn't normally do, but you decide to do it anyway because you just feel like doing it. There is something magical in that moment, it feels good to try something different and new and unknown. The compulsion can be to jump up and down, sing out, scream, roll on the floor, kiss a friend, have sex, go out for a walk, blaze a new trail, climb a rock, jump off a bridge... While jumping off a bridge is a compulsion that should obviously be avoided, acting on "lesser" or "harmless" compulsions is a trickier topic. On one hand, the very reason people take psychedelics is to push boundaries, have new experiences, and explore the unknown, so when you find yourself on psychedelics exploring the unknown and having new experiences, then good for you, it worked! But if you go so far off the map that your behavior becomes irresponsible and dangerous, then what? You become the victim of psychedelic irrationality, are at the mercy of your compulsions, and could possibly even wind up a statistic. So where do you draw the line here?

I could put in a little mini sermon about the risks and rewards of psychedelics; the chance and consequence of compulsive behavior; the synchronicity and jazz of acting in the moment; but the bottom line is that you need to expect compulsive thoughts and be prepared to deal with them when you take psychedelics. It is very hard to keep a "level head" when high on psychedelics, but knowing your boundaries before you start your trip is a big part of being able to draw the line between playful exploration and stepping into the danger zone while you are high. And everyone's boundaries are different, so be honest with what you expect from your exploration. For instance, some people are sexually promiscuous on psychedelics, others refrain from casual sexual contact on psychedelics because they feel the risk is too great. Some people are comfortable going out in public or going to a show under the influence of psychedelics, others always stay isolated or among a small group of people because being high in a crowd of strangers is just completely out of the question. Everyone has a comfort level about being to act like a "normal person" while under the influence of psychedelics, and knowing your optimum dose range is a big part of establishing your personal comfort zone. Although I don't know of any dose-response studies which specifically cover impulsive ideation and compulsive behavior, I suspect that impulsive ideation starts at fairly low doses, but compulsive behavior starts at the higher ranges when the rational cortex is almost fully offline. Thus, the more you go over your known dose level and comfort zone, the more likely you are to do something impulsive that you may regret later.

Passive Aggressive Behavior

Passive aggressive behavior on psychedelics is very common, and can be viewed in a number of ways, both personal and intrapersonal. On the personal level, the act of warping reality and drugging yourself into dreamlike stupor is an inherently passive-aggressive act against the self, against society, and against the entire fabric of the universe itself. It would be wrong to classify all psychedelic use this way, but the escapist, passive-aggressive avoidance of real-life issues in favor of fantastical mind-blowing entheogenic quests is one of the more common traps of novice psychedelic use. The argument between psychedelics as tool of personal enlightenment vs. psychedelics as tool of social subversion can be made back and forth all day, but my point here is that psychedelics can be used to explore the self in positive ways as well as to escape reality in negative ways, and from my estimation psychedelic use in modern times is as often "negative" as it is "positive."

Butting getting beyond the question of whether drug use is passive-aggressive behavior in and of itself, the question of passive-aggressive behavior exhibited while under the influence of psychedelics should be explored in some detail. Passive-aggression can be defined in a number of ways: avoidance of certain people or situations; fear of confrontation or failure; a grudging unwillingness to do what you are "supposed" to do; using lies or misdirection to avoid doing certain things or talking about certain subjects; having constant unspoken feelings of marginalization and victimization; etc. Most passive-aggressive behavior is based on natural fears of conflict, imposed authority, and rejection. When the moody teenager refuses to take out the trash after his mother has asked him to do so multiple times, the teen is not only being lazy, the teen is passive-aggressively confronting the imposed authority structure of the nuclear family. When the overworked manager begins letting his job performance slip in order to make his boss look bad, it is not because of a lack of care or ability to do the job, it is because the overworked manager is angry at the imposed authority structure, is passive-aggressively avoiding the conflict of confronting his boss outright, and is passive-aggressively avoiding the potential rejection of being denied a raise or being reprimanded for poor performance. In other words, it is natural for passive-aggressive behavior to be exhibited in any kind of relationship where there is a tacit imposed power structure, which includes just about every human relationship that ever existed.

Passive-aggressive behavior is very common in group psychedelic trips, even in small groups among close friends, and this is for a variety of reasons. Even in underground psychedelic groups there is a tacit power structure which defines who the leaders are, who sets the agenda, who the newbies are, who distributes the drugs, etc. This is all very common and natural. However, when all these different energies come together in a group psychedelic session, everything becomes exaggerated and emotionally charged at the exact same time that people are beginning to feel socially awkward and are unable to verbally express what they feel. If you take the general sense of anxiety and paranoia caused by psychedelics and add a layer of group power dynamics and communication breakdown on top of that, it is no wonder that some people on psychedelics become extremely withdrawn and frustrated around other people. And when a person on psychedelics withdraws and is unable to adequately verbalize what they are feeling, they may begin to feel awkward and angry, and may begin to blame a person or persons within the group for their personal sense of unease. This is paranoid passive-aggressive ideation in a nutshell. Even in clinical settings or in cases where there is a "guide" or "baby sitter" present, passive-aggressive ideation can still be focused at the power structure implied by that dynamic.

The results of spontaneous feelings of passive-aggression on a psychedelic trip can vary wildly, but they usually end up in bummers, emotional outbursts, or messy interpersonal confrontations of some kind. As an example I will relate the story of a friend who started a huge fight with his girlfriend because she was dancing at a party. Why was he mad at her for dancing? Because he wasn't dancing. Conversely, while he was mad at her for dancing, she was mad at him for sulking in the corner. The fact that they were both coming up on LSD at the time did not help this misunderstanding, it exacerbated it. Each one thought the other was acting stupid, yet neither wanted to confront the other because they were trying to act cool. The silent feud lasted until the boyfriend stomped across the floor and began to drag his girlfriend away while they were both starting to peak. As you might imagine there was much yelling and arguing over the next half-hour or so, but once things calmed down they were back to normal, making up, and realizing how stupid they had been. They were literally never more than twenty feet apart the whole night, but somewhere along the line they had each decided that the other had abandoned them. How did that happen? They were both passive-aggressively angry at the other for trying to impose relationship authority over each other; one wanted to dance, the other did not want to dance. The avoidance of this conflict and fear of rejection made the situation even worse, and the LSD simply put it over the top.

This kind of misunderstanding between dating partners is surely not proprietary to psychedelics; the same misunderstanding could have happened without the LSD, maybe substituting alcohol consumption for LSD with a similar outcome. However, the danger with psychedelics is that they exacerbate the passive-aggressive cycle by internalizing the anxiety and warping it to cartoonish extremes. To hear my friend describe the evening, his girlfriend was literally humping every guy on the dance floor, but nothing of the kind happened. He let his anger turn his girlfriend's dancing into an explicit sexual betrayal in his own mind, complete with instantaneous Technicolor porn reels spinning through his brain as he wallowed in self pity. He saw photo-realistic animated cartoons of his girlfriend having sweaty, dance-throbbing sex with all the other men (and women) on the dance floor in an orgy of writhing human bodies, but this was all happening in his own mind, of course. This is what I mean when I say psychedelics can exaggerate even little things to cartoonish extremes: You literally get the extreme cartoon version of your thoughts delivered into your brain as you think it. This vivid expression of your worst-fears-come-true coupled with the inability to formulate an appropriate rational response to the situation will almost always lead to an obsessive spiral that makes the anxiety grow until the cycle is broken.

The key to overcoming runaway passive-aggressive ideation in the psychedelic state is first understanding that this is another inwardly-spiraling cyclical trap, and that the inability to rationally express your unease or confront your fear only makes it worse. In group situations, it often helps to get right past the language barrier and start communicating solely by sound and touch, using singing, rhythms, tonal gibberish, hugging, holding hands, massage, supportive touching, and other methods to make everyone within the group feel trusting and secure with each other. This is why psychedelic groups (or tribes) that trip together often get very "touchy-feely" with each other; when forming tight tribal bonds it is necessary to get beyond words to make sure everyone understands how everyone else "feels" so that no one "feels" left out. Some of you may read the term "touchy feely" as a euphemism for "sexually promiscuous," and I cannot deny that intimate touching often leads to sex, especially on psychedelics, but this is why you set boundaries before you trip with a group of people instead of trying to figure it out on the fly. The intensity of emotional sharing that takes place in group psychedelic sessions can quickly lead to a level of intimacy never achieved with other humans. This can be a good or a bad thing depending on the outcome of the particular trip and how you feel on the other side. Emotional outbursts or passive withdrawals are not always bad things either. If you are truly feeling victimized then an emotional outburst can be very cleansing and cathartic, but much like unexpected physical intimacy, emotional outbursts often change the parameters of existing relationships, so be careful of extremes in whichever direction you go. If you are unable to deal with the intensity of the experience, then passive-aggressively withdrawing from group intimacy or avoiding psychedelics altogether is a natural resistance to changing the status quo of your existing relationships.

As mentioned earlier, much of the passive aggressive and obsessive side-effects of psychedelics can be mitigated by dosing in concert with MDMA, also known as candyflipping. A simple hit of ecstasy will turn a group of tripping, passive-aggressive, inwardly-obsessive mopers into a gaggle of touchy-feely, giggling gropers in under an hour, so there is a definite case to be made here for the role of seratonin supply in mediating internalized obsessions and passive-aggressive avoidance behaviors. However, the MDMA will do little or nothing to stop compulsive ideation and impulsive behaviors, in fact the hedonic nature of MDMA could very well exacerbate compulsions directly linked to pleasure and reward, so be warned. Someone who is obsessive about their psychedelic use will know in advance the precise dose range of any given chemical or cocktail needed to achieve their desired state, and the idea of setting a "comfort zone" between proper dosage and appropriate behavior should be second-nature to anyone who experiments with psychedelics. Getting familiar with your feelings and knowing your comfort zone is essential to minimizing negative outcomes on psychedelics. This advice may seem obvious, but it really comes down to being smart enough to not take more substance than you are ready to handle. Disregarding this rule and taking heroic doses of unfamiliar substances can be seen as an act of aggression towards the self. If you disregard your own safety and do not care what happens to you, you are most likely going to do something foolish.

Anxiety Disorders Education Program

The Anxiety Disorders Education Program is a national education campaign developed by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to increase awareness among the public and health care professionals that anxiety disorders are real medical illnesses that can be effectively diagnosed and treated.

More than 19 million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders, which include panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and generalized anxiety disorder. They suffer from symptoms that are chronic, unremitting and usually grow progressively worse if left untreated. Tormented by panic attacks, irrational thoughts and fears, compulsive behaviors or rituals, flashbacks, nightmares, or countless frightening physical symptoms, people with anxiety disorders are heavy utilizers of emergency rooms and other medical services. Their work, family and social lives are disrupted, and some even become housebound. Many of them have co-occuring disorders such as depression, alcohol or drug abuse, or other mental disorders. Because of widespread lack of understanding and the stigma associated with these disorders, many people with anxiety disorders are not diagnosed and are not receiving treatments that have been proven effective through research.

DG DISPATCH - ECNP Generalized Anxiety Disorder Has Worst Impact On Quality Of Life

Brain Lock Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior A Four-Step Self-Treatment Method to Change Your Brain Chemistry

A reader from America , July 2, 1999

5 out of 5 stars Excellent! A DYI approach to OCD and related disorders.

A friend gave me this book and it is excellent. If you have OCD or even a related disorder it gives you a practical approach to learning to deal with and outsmart your disorder.

Take me, frinstance, while I do not have any checking compulsions, I have suffered from anxiety disorder and occasionally intrusive, disturbing thoughts for a number of years. (Other than that I am your regular guy, you wouldn't know I had a disorder if you saw me).

This book gives you a 4-step method of "reframing" OCD in a way that makes it manageable. Ultimately, the authors say, by using their method you can "retrain your brain" and actually alter your brain chemistry in a positive direction and thus reduce the original symptoms to something liveable.

Buy it (or have a friend give it to you...) :-)

Stop Obsessing! How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions

The Boy Who Couldn't Stop Washing The Experience and Treatment of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

A reader from Santa Fe, NM , July 16, 1998

5 out of 5 stars A good description of the problem and some solutions

This book contains well-written descriptions of obsessive-compulsive disorder -- it's informative, clear, and a pleasure to read. And for those of us who either suffer from these disorders or are close to someone who does, it's an eye-opener: you are NOT the only person who's ever had to deal with this problem, and there IS hope for curing it! For all these reasons, I highly recommend the book. Two cautions, however:

(1) The book gave a good description of the ways of treating OCD as of the date it was written. Since then, however, there have been many new developments, so, if you're specifically interested in treatments, you'll need to look up some more recent books and articles.

(2) "Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder" (OCPD) is a related but different condition, and it's possible that someone who exhibits similar symptoms but doesn't have full-blown OCD suffers from this instead. (My mother has never gone in for compulsive hand-washing, but she's rigid, intolerant, controlling, and a pack rat on a truly monumental scale. That's OCPD.)

The treatments for the two conditions differ -- drugs are more helpful for OCD than OCPD, for example. As with any mental condition, it's absolutely necessary to have a thorough professional diagnosis; don't just march into your doctor's office demanding Prozac, or stock up on St. John's Wort at your local herbalist's.

Social Anxiety Disorder

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