Like drugs of abuse, exposure to novel stimuli releases a rush of dopamine in reward areas of the brain. And, high-sensation seekers often develop a sort of tolerance to high-risk activities—boredom sets in, and they are compelled to add new twists that recreate the initial charge.
I'm sure that the mechanisms of dopamine are a lot more complex than novelty-click-dopamine but nevertheless it's interesting to speculate. We have developed wonderful engines for novel stimulation: email, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SMS - there's always a new message, a new tweet, a new status, a new photo, a new text that might be coming, that might be wonderful. Does this possibility lead to the pattern of endlessly checking for updates? Are we engaged in a multi-million person experiment that is creating neophiles, endless craving the new?
I don't know if it's actually the case, but it certainly seems to me that if we had set out to do it intentionally, we couldn't have done better than the unpredictable bursts of the new that we got we with the systems we built. I guess it's ultimately a question of whether the novelty-seeking, whether it's waiting for the Blackberry to buzz, refreshing Twitter, clicking through the TV channels or following web links (prurient or otherwise) interferes with the ability to read and think in longer-form, less jittery ways.
I do find that interacting with Twitter through TweetDeck or EchoFon has much more of a tendency for me to be about discovering interesting content than actually consuming it; my pinboard is full of bookmarked but not read links. I also found the rapid feedback and perception-of-activity that come with Twitter drained a lot of the energy away that I used to devote to blogging.
That being said I'm not convinced about any "Internet is making us stupid" or "Internet is making us addicts" arguments. I think one thing it does point to is the sheer lack of complex filtering tools - at least I'm not aware of good ones. Right now I consume EchoFon and TweetDeck as raw streams of tweets from people I follow - without any ranking, recommendations or analysis.
As I read Too Big To Know (and having read similar books) I'm struck by how much of the discussion is about how the way to deal with lots of information is good filters, yet how few of our tools provide sophisticated filters (anything more than keyword filters) by default.
Pouring an activity stream directly into the brain is not a particularly useful allocation of time; I'd be interested hear about any tools that people are using to filter Twitter and other information streams.