Irving Biederman, a neuroscientist at the University of Southern California, who has been studying the evolutionary and biological basis of the human need for information – or in other words, why were so prone to looking at all this stuff on the internet.
New and richly interpretable information triggers a chemical reaction that makes us feel good, which in turn causes us to seek out even more of it. The reverse is true as well: We want to avoid not getting those hits because, for one, we are so averse to boredom.
It is something we seem hard-wired to do, says Dr. Biederman. When you find new information, you get an opioid hit, and we are junkies for those. You might call us ‘infovores.’ ”
For most of human history, there was little chance of overdosing on information, because any one day in the Olduvai Gorge was a lot like any other. Today, though, we can find in the course of a few hours online more information than our ancient ancestors could in their whole lives.
Just like the laser and the cat, technology is playing a trick on us. We are programmed for scarcity and can’t dial back when something is abundant.
The same happens with food: Because at one time we never knew when the next saber-toothed tiger might come along for food, it made sense to pack on the calories whenever we chanced upon them. That’s not much help in today’s world of snack aisles and super sizes.
Using computers traditionally has been associated with Mr. Spock-style cerebration, the ultimate kind of left-brain activity. But Dr. Biederman is just one of many researchers now linking it with some of the oldest parts of the human brain.