Your Mood Organ
Mood swings by a glowing rectangle.
At his console he hesitated between dialing for a thalamic suppressant (which would abolish his mood of rage) or a thalamic stimulant (which would make him irked enough to win the argument).
"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."
It was a long day at work. You’ve eaten a meal and it now warms you from within. It should now be time to recover, relax, enjoy the time at home. But thoughts about the day persist. Maybe a tiff with a coworker or your lover is still occupying your mind.
It’s itching. It’s complicated. It can’t be solved. It makes you feel a bit deflated, powerless and ineffectual. It’s not allowing you to wind down.
So the glowing rectangle of the illimitable smartphone draws your attention.
You follow your now compulsive pattern that borders on ritual. To Twitter. To Instagram. To Facebook. To YouTube. To Spotify. To Pornhub. To texting, and beyond. And maybe back again.
It’s too easy to be reminded of a device in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep when describing this kind of habit pattern:
“‘Keep your hand off my settings.’ Her voice held bitter sharpness. ‘I don’t want to be awake.’“
The device she’s speaking of is one that’s all-too relevant to us in our Era of the Smartphone. The device allows for the easy alteration of one’s emotions. It’s called the mood organ, a self-controlled module that the user can navigate to enter specific mood states, allowing the user to experience a range from mild amusement to “six-hour self-accusatory depression” and everything in between. It’s used immediately upon awakening. The analogy here is clear.
Pick your poison. Or let an algorithm pick it for you. You recall some utterly idiotic post you stumbled upon about a celebrity this-and-that saying a politically charged nonsense statement, the fool.
The glare of self-righteous gluttony takes control, and you seek out the post again. Then some others that are similar. And inevitably a commenter makes a mockery of all sanity and respectability, so you lurk through their profile for a few minutes, feeling all gluttonous and right. And this is how your mood organ has been adjusted to one of your favorite settings: moral superiority.
And we’ve become like frogs in slowly heating water, subtly becoming blind to the incredible sway these devices have on our emotions.
Be it jealously cruising through an ex’s new lover’s page, doomscrolling for a little hit of amusement, cruising through pornography for a period of habitual self-abuse, blasting exultant music in spite of feeling a bit dour, listening to sorrowful tunes in pursuit of a comforting cocoon of sadness, or purposive distraction with silly videos of kittens and the like. We’re good at finding our favorite ways to feel differently than the circumstances in our lives incline us to feel.
These technologies are having real impacts on people’s lives. Fewer young adults are having sex or getting driver’s licenses than in previous generations, which makes sense given the digital surrogates for these activities. If driving is seen as a means to the end of amusement, the shortcut to that same amusement is through a screen in the form of social media, video games, or pornography.
The car isn’t merely a means to an end though. It’s as much a symbol of freedom as a way of attaining it. When I was growing up, the doors that car-ownership opened were mostly social: you had a car, you were able to get to parties and take a cute girl out on a date. But when you’re able to satisfy these drives through parasocial means, what good does that do? Getting a car is a lot of work compared to jumping on Discord and gaming with the boys or opening up your web browser and finding the ersatz comfort of watching strangers making “love.” The latter itself is a means of perpetuating a downward spiral.
The feeling of horniness (or more accurately, loneliness) that leads to the compulsive use of porn is temporarily resolved when porn is used. But it doesn’t even attempt to get to the root of it. For those who experience this, to refrain from allowing the lonely hollow to be filled with images and sounds of porno is to cause a moment of dissatisfaction. And if this forestalling is maintained, then the inclination is instead away from a fixation on some screen but the attainment of something real and lasting in the form of another person who can help you meet those emotional and sexual needs that find themselves squelched through onanistic, solipsistic spewings.
To fill each interstitial moment of “real” life with our smartphones is to maim the periods they surround. Attention to events outside of that mood-maintaining pursuit is never fully given. Time that would have – in all the eras before this Age of the Smartphone – been open to processing events in one’s life are now packed with extraneous stimuli that retard useful integration of important emotions. Instead of sitting with momentary boredom that may flower into the development of patience, or an insight into some problem that has been looming – one that might call us to fix our lot in life – we fill our time with stimuli that we can agree is picayune and purposeless much of the time. What comes from this is an emotional stunting seen in those who’ve dealt with drug addiction.
All said, we’re not so many steps off of wireheading. But why give it up when it’s all so amusing?