My computer slows down to a halt. I get impatient. I start looking for the cell phone. I can check Twitter, and Facebook, and email faster that way. I can’t find the phone. Instead, my eyes catch the cover of a coffee table book about luxury brands. It’s in Russian, and it has beautiful photos. I grab the book and start flipping through the pages in desperation because I feel like smashing the computer. And here it is, on page 252, this whimsical Massaro shoe…
During his 56-year career, Raymond Massaro has handcrafted shoes for Marlene Dietrich, the Duchess of Windsor, Claudia Schiffer, as well as fashion houses like Chanel, Christian Lacroix, John Galliano and many more. The Massaro brand began as a family business in 1885. Raymond Massaro’s grandfather, father and three brothers were all shoemakers. Massaro had hoped to be a professor of French or history. His father made him become a shoemaker, and later Raymond Massaro thanked him for that every morning. Because Massaro didn’t have kids, he worked out a deal with his long-term client Chanel for the sale of his business with the right to work there as long as he wanted.
As I study the brain-captivating image, the sense of computer-induced urgency dissolves. The brain is capable of about 8 seconds of focused attention when something distracts us from the current task. The Massaro shoe does the trick. It’s almost a meditative experience. I feel calmer now. I don’t mind staying in the high fashion world a bit longer.
Why do we feel that sense of urgency around the Internet and our social networks in the first place? Why are we constantly searching, checking, updating? The answer lies in the fact that our brains prefer stimulation over boredom. The brain is motivated by curiosity and the search for patterns. Washington State University neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp calls this the “seeking” system of the brain. It motivates animals to search for food, and it causes human brains to seek out information, ideas, connections.
When the brain is busy searching and predicting, it increases levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for the sense of purposefulness and focused attention. Dopamine is even implicated in our internal sense of time. So, next time you waste hours clicking and seeking, blame your dopamine neurons. Interestingly, these neurons become even more excited when there is no pattern to be found.
The fluid world of the web, where information flows fast and novelty rules, fuels the brain’s urge to search. In Slate’s article “Seeking,” Emily Yoffe writes:
Actually all our electronic communication devices—e-mail, Facebook feeds, texts, Twitter—are feeding the same drive as our searches. Since we’re restless, easily bored creatures, our gadgets give us in abundance qualities the seeking/wanting system finds particularly exciting. Novelty is one. Panksepp says the dopamine system is activated by finding something unexpected or by the anticipation of something new. If the rewards come unpredictably—as e-mail, texts, updates do—we get even more carried away. No wonder we call it a “CrackBerry.”
We all run through information mazes. No wonder, it takes a Massaro shoe to pull my attention away from the computer. And unless your brand has the Massaro shoe equivalent, I’ll just keep clicking.