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Ask HN: Anyone else using Hacker News as a `dopamine hit`?
82 points by ryeguy_24 on June 27, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 34 comments
I love HN. It's my only news source. But I'm finding that more often than not, I'm not taking the time to `fully` read articles. I spend most of my time identifying interesting posts, reading the intro, skimming a bit, looking for the bold section headers, getting some quick brain stimulation and the moving on to the next article. I want to focus and read the whole article but I feel like I'm using HN as a brain stimulating dopamine hit instead.

I find myself overwhelmed the sheer number of interesting concepts. Most of these articles are written by sheer experts in their fields. How does one spend the time to learn it all? I wish I could get a PhD in everything. Anyone else have this feeling/problem? How do you deal with it?

In your real life group of friends, make sure you don’t engage with people who emphasize a spirit of one-upsmanship in regards to who is the most “informed” about every esoteric, up-to-the-minute or bleeding edge development in every topic.

Usually these folks have a shallow understanding of most of the stuff they go on about. Enough to sound smart in an isolated sound byte at a party, to make other shallow people go, “wow, how do they stay so informed?” but which completely falls apart with even just a few cursory depth questions.

I think scanning Hacker News links begets this shallow way of thinking and emphasizes name dropping new topics as if it makes you seem like a zeitgeist genius.

Read just a few things that interest you, and try to read them a little more deeply. For all the other stuff, just ignore it. If it’s really that important, it’ll come up again and again. You’ll read it eventually. Anybody giving you a hard time about not having already seen it is probably a shallow time waster who only “knows more” about it in the most superficial sense.

Social media is like a petri dish for these people too. So, as should be immediately obvious by this point in history, just stay away from social media.

>Enough to sound smart in an isolated sound byte at a party, to make other shallow people go, “wow, how do they stay so informed?” but which completely falls apart with even just a few cursory depth questions.

People can get into that habit because the industry has been branded as a fast moving one in which we all must stay up-to-date.

I'm all for calling out shallow people, but let's not pretend there isn't also a bigger force at work as far as that kind of signalling goes.

And naturally people that do these things tend to herd together where no one is going to rock the boat.

I don’t know. It’s usually a hallmark of a worthwhile business partner / team member / friend / network connection when someone is willing to just admit candidly that they don’t know something, that they aren’t an expert at XYZ and so their political opinion or design opinion, etc., should be discounted and they don’t have (and don’t need to have) something constantly poignant to say.

Networking with a bunch of people who just constantly regurgitate the same constantly poignant pseudo-intellectualism to each other doesn’t really pay off. You get a big network on LinkedIn and you show up at events and in the end you don’t get any actual job opportunities / leads / VC intros, etc. etc., because the self-reinforcing circular facade doesn’t have any substance with which it can possibly turn out as a payoff to you.

I think even from an expected returns point of view, just simplifying your life, minimizing the shallow chatter, networking sparsely but judiciously, is just way healthier and offers better payoffs.

If you use http://hckrnews.com/ you won't miss anything. Since you've turned the site into a bad habit, moderate your consumption with a rule like 'I only read it on the weekends'

You are drinking from the water hose. Do this long enough and your ability to concentrate will atrophy, it is a muscle that needs regular exercise. The first step is to understand what you are doing to your brain.

Try this: instead of merely skimming articles, make it mandatory to summarize everything you read in a few sentences. You'll very soon figure out that most what you read does not really interest you. Understanding requires work and deeper motivation to do so.

When reading a lot of those articles and papers you learn how to skim faster and more precise. For example the authors message is often found in the end. You learn when passages of text start where a lot of fancy words are used to tell a story and vivid images, these can be skipped through faster when looking for concepts and ideas. But can be important to put together the collected pieces (concepts,ideas) and give it a context.

I sometimes think a kind of text structure "syntax highlighter" would be interesting to learn to spot the structure.

The comments on-page and on hackernews are also part of the article for me and often the most interesting things can be found there.

When you learn something new your brain tries to connect it to your world view/model, like a puzzle piece. Over time you put more and more pieces you have more and more docking points and so it gets easier with time to take in something new. Because you can easier relate it something you already know.

But so does increase the things you could learn, yet you only have limited time. Yea that is kinda annoying, I also wish I would have the time to learn and master it all. But there is only so much time and an infinite sea of things to explore..

But hey, it is fun while it lasts so why worry? Just continue with the quest for knowledge and understanding and have fun while doing it!

I think I've figured this out.

I basically have two modes, hunt and eat. When I'm at my computer, I pull in the list of HN titles via RSS. I go through the list (just titles, no upvote numbers, rankings, or other brain hackery) and select the ones I'm actually interested in. I pop those open as tabs.

Once I have the articles I want, I quickly go through them in a sorting cycle. Weird games or apps I might take a quick look at. Paywalls get busted down, bypassed, or ignored. The articles I'm interested in reading go into Pocket using the browser extension.

When I'm out and about or lying around, I read articles using the Pocket app. I have the articles I want in front of me and so my brain isn't looking for more quick hits. Completing articles is the hit in that context. Actually, I pump most of the articles into my head as audio, so I can do laundry or walk around or cook. That's when I get most of them read, plus books and such.

Might be overengineered but it works for me. According to Pocket, I read over 8 million words last year. I'm actually thinking of pulling back a bit as there are dcreasing returns. Not sure how it counts words, as that seems like a lot, but there's also a ton I read that isn't in Pocket.

What are you using to convert articles to audio? Is that a feature of the pocket app?

Yes. Pocket does that. I used to do the same, but recently I have been using OneTab - another chrome extension. I can always open it later when I want to read them. Give it a try :)

Why should you read the whole page? Some people think they should always read a book until the end. Same for a movie.

If you don't read the whole article, it's probably because it's not so interesting.

I have three news/link sources: HN/Reddit, RSS feeds, email newsletters. I browse stuff on HN/Reddit, speed read stories if I ever go past the comments (I'm mostly here for the comments, which are almost always more interesting than the story). Sometimes it's really interesting, then I read most or the entirety of the article. Same with my RSS feeds. I filter and find the stuff I wan't to actually read, most of the items are either irrelevant or it's enough to read the title and maybe skim the article. Same story with the newsletters (which, except a couple ones, I prefer to be posting at most a couple times a week). I find and filter stuff from these sources, then either I read them immediately (seldom), then possibly bookmark; or they linger as tabs before they are read or go into a reading list.

Basically, I read the stuff asynchronously. If sth. is really interesting, I skim or read it; otherwise it gets shoved into a reading list. If it's important enough, I return to it. I also schedule a "lists review" task every seven days in my agenda, so I sometimes go through my lists to find interesting stuff. This way, I'm aware of many interesting stuff and events/news; but I'm not procrastinating away buried in articles or caught in wiki-walking (unless I want to, that is).

Of course. Why would you think HN is different from any other social media/news aggregator?

You need to diversify your news diet. Buy one of each of your local & regional newspapers (if you have any) and pick one to read as regularly as you can. Watch a local news broadcast or at least read their website every few days.

Do the same with national papers. Avoid cable news, in my opinion.

Pay attention to the sources of the material you find most useful or entertaining from here and other aggregation sites. You will wind up drilling through multiple aggregators. Find the sites and people, and keep up with them directly.

You're definitely just using Hacker News as a dopamine hit, and you're probably not really learning anything from it. You know what will help you break the habit? Create something, and make posting here about what you create your goal instead. It might blow up, or it might fizzle, but it's a better use of your time in either case.

> You need to diversify your news diet.

Why exactly? If somebody doesn't like reading/watching local news what's the big deal?

> I love HN. It's my only news source.

Diversity. Local news. Non-tech news.

> Diversity. Local news. Non-tech news.

Still just listing things not benefits. Why do people who aren't interested in non-tech news "need" to seek it out?

To develop/maintain a healthy dose of perspective.

You're not the only one. For many people here (myself included), Hacker News is basically Reddit for tech/startups, a list of list of random links to scan when you're bored for two minutes on a commute/lunch break.

I deal with it by taking breaks from browsing. Then I just read the top articles of the week or month.

A lot of articles are fun tidbits but not life changing or relevant for me so there's no real loss in doing the above.

For my dopamine hits, I prefer Reddit (frat party) to Hacker News (church).

It's even worse with me. I check the site a lot, skim the article (on an interesting headline) and go right to the comments on here because I often find the discussions fun to read.

Just use it to pass/kill time when traveling, waiting for kids, waiting in hospitals, or passing time while relieving myself - besides that it’s great place to stay current.

Using it right now for the rush. I quit reddit, like it’s on my block list, but HNews seems wholesome enough so I’ve kept it. The problem is the dopamine rush

I use it as my dopamine hit just like mtn dew.



HN is my final frontier of premature optimization.


No. That's not how human behavior works. The "dopamine-fix/pleasure-addiction" concept is deeply flawed, and serves only as Pop Culture's mental crutch, occupying place where an explanation for a deeper problem belongs.

It's hand-wavey, unverifiable magic that fits in broadly with anyone's self image, without contaminating the circumstances by laying blame or guilt at the feet of the individual.

The truth is that many of us have a lot of down time, and we don't know what to do with ourselves. We don't know what to do with ourselves, because so many other optional behaviors have been rationalized away from us, and removed from any normal equation.

If you were reading a book or knitting a sweater or mowing the lawn, your behavior would similarly directed into yet another pointless passtime, gifted with a deceptive sense of seeming purpose. But the cause-and-effect relationship interacting with electronic media, while intellectually occupying, suffers from effects that evaporate as soon as you pull the plug or as soon as the battery dies. This leaves a gaping feeling of wasted time, as soon as the power goes out, when there's no more electricity.

So, what if we turn our attention to activities where we can cause some sort of effect, which has no basis in electronic systems demonstrating evidence of the effect we have? Surpise! 99% of what you're legally permitted to do is essentially pointless time wasting, where you spin your wheels until you die unfulfilled, only to pass a world of questions to the next generation, with no answers to match.

One might say that our society, our culture is hollow, empty and meaningless, but with enough of a deconstructivist outlook, everything starts to look like that. When you take things apart (a bicycle for example), disassembling recognizable objects or concepts to their fundamental building blocks (handle bars, pedals, chain, wheels), often this destroys something beyond recognition, only to leave one with a feeling of regret at the loss of the thing they once knew.

With advanced technology, we've disassembled fundamental aspects of human civilization, at a pace where the people who have lived through previous decades, now must cope with a near total reorganization of typical modes of behavior, while also raising the next generation, without having many answers for what comes next.

On both sides of this equation, this feels like a near total loss of control. And for some, it actually is.

Gee, what to do with all this spare time you have on your hands, now that communication is near effortless, crosses the globe in an instant, discounting inflated prices built to accomodate a previously well-understood overhead cost, of staying organized in a world where staying on the same page with someone hundreds of miles away used to require carefully concerted planning?

Beats me, partner. Just don't hurt anybody. The times, they are a'changin'. Maybe knit a sweater?

I am sorry, but I beg to differ. This concept is built onto basic insights into how the human reward system works, why else would Design (cf. Tristan Harris tristanharris.com/essays or Chamath Palihapitiya https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PMotykw0SIk&t=1220) and Advertisement use this to try to shape peoples desires (and in turn consumer choices)?

What you are drawing is in my opinion a false equivalency. It is not at all the same doing things in real life like reading a book, mowing the lawn or knitting a sweater and skimming a news feed or interacting with social media. The main reason for that imo is the amount of effort you have to put in to get a reward. When you take the offline work you (in the case of a book) at least have to go to the bookshelf, pick a book, take it in your hand and whilst reading have the rough content of the previous pages in your head or (in the case of mowing the lawn) actually physically move. This delays the gratification you get when having finished reading the book or mowing the lawn.

With social media or quickly skimming articles from a news feed the delay you get on your gratification when scrolling through is literally given by the speed with which you can scroll and read. This makes dopamine so cheap for your brain, that it will of course reward you when you engage in these activities. (Incidentally it also makes it more susceptible to future easy dopamine hits (too lazy to find online sources, will look a little later. Joachim Bauer: Selbststeuerung is a very good book on this)).

And no, it is nihilistic to think that 99% of what we are allowed to do is pointless. Having these discussion for example is a great source of meaning. Really: educating yourself, talking to other people and forming opinions on different topics is also very meaningful as it will influence your perspective on the world in a lot of (sometimes even positive ;) ) ways.

I must admit, that I don't quite get your point on the disassembly of fundamental aspects of human civilization (although it sounds very good :D). To me the equivalency would be a bicycle becoming an ebike, which drives nearly effortlessly. The difference between today and before is that before you had enough time to think where you want to go while riding the bike (as it was tedious and slow to ride) and today the bike is going so fast that some people just ride it for the rush of speed and don't actually know where they want to go.

So the lesson to me is: Get off the bike. Sit down, enjoy the view and figure out where you want to go first and then drive the hell out of it in that direction.

So some self-important "tech luminary" claims to have engineered a secret weapon feedback loop, and it's so incredible that it hacked everyone's brain, and wowee, he's so smart.

It's easy to pin post-hoc rationalizations for his own success, onto a self-aggrandizing personal narrative, after becoming successful. Believe whatever airbrushed fish story you like.

B.F. Skinner and Ivan Pavlov showed us the truth about operant conditioning for sure. And indeed, the principle extends to Great Apes if you reward them with delicious snacks for using an iPad correctly.

But humans have executive function, and more downtime than we know what to do with lately, because modes of behavior are more efficient now, than even one decade ago, and there's a gap left behind, leaving a preoccupation vacuum in it's wake. We don't know what to do with ourselves, and that imparts a malaise of idle restlessness, especially relative to the pace of change.

Computers, mobile devices, ubiquitous applications, smart appliances, have become something like a ball hog in a game of basketball. They keep grabbing the ball and scoring, and never pass the ball to a human, because they always possess a better chance of scoring themselves, so it would be irrational to put the ball into a human's hands. Except we're the ones that wanted to play the game. We didn't show up to sit on the bench and watch a game played by robots.

It's less about the operant conditioning of our pleasure centers (oh, oh, excuse me! fancier words: dopamine receptors, because neuroscience) than the fact that we've truly got nothing better to do than watch Saturday morning cartoons. We're bored, the world is scary, and funny cartoons in our bedroom is safe.

You're conflating something to fit in with your world view, regarding the bicycle analogy. Motorcycles have existed since the early 1900's, and people already ride them at high speeds. It's not about the bike. It's not about The Mind Bike. It's about seeing the forrest for the trees.

The B.F. Skinner box for our dopamine drip is but one tree, and there is an entire forrest of drastic change shaping new social norms.

If you consider what will happen to traditional family structures in India, if you took away arranged marriage, I suspect you'd begin to notice a massive sea change in world views among those affected in less than a decade.

That's the degree of transformation unfolding, everywhere emerging technologies find new ways to alter routine daily behaviors, although such transformative effects are not limited to family structures or courtship rituals. It also affects culturally agnostic activities like driving a car or mailing a letter.

If one deludes themselves into a postive outlook of sunshine and smiles because the perception of nihilism seems detestible, expect to be unpleasantly surprised now and again, because taking a hard pragmatic look at what's right under your nose is necessary, to not get blindsided by others who aren't always so cheerful.

If I come across as negative, it's probably only relative to your preferred frame of reference. I tend to stay neutral and objective wherever possible, since life is pretty much always this way. The deconstructivist concept isn't a personal invention of mine. In fact, I think it's rooted strongly in zen/buddhist ideology. It finds it's basis in the understanding that while the whole is the sum of its parts, each part, taken as an island unto itself, has less purpose, when removed from the greater context of the whole.

A bodily organ cannot stand alone, but what we are doing to the various cultural norms, around the globe, is experimenting with the transplant of synthetic organs, to see if society can survive, if we take away the heart and lungs in exchange for a heart and lung machine. Maybe this, by turns, is truly an achievement for some, but not everyone sees a payday for these efforts. Some don't get their organs back.

Bravo. I second the first reply. I reread this a few times just to make sure I got it all. Are you an author?

Thanks again! I am not an author. It'd be tough to carve out a niche for myself with mere words.

I love how you write. I would read a book or blog if you wrote it. You bring up some very interesting concepts.


I could probably write something, but the world wouldn't let me enjoy it. So I languish in pointless tech jobs producing executable web fluff that lives between the browser and the database ('middleware'), that will go into the trash in less than five years, because you're supposed to pantomime productivity in exchange for food and shelter.

Whelp! Back to the treadmill!

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