Dopamine fasting on the rise?

Mar 2012
New Hampshire

In the far reaches of the country, tucked away near the ocean, some people are going out of their way to avoid the many pleasant things life has to offer. Online movies. Rich foods. Friendly conversations. Eye contact.

No, these people are not monks. They’re adherents of a different gospel: a hot new Silicon Valley lifestyle trend called dopamine fasting.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter involved in our brain’s system for motivation, reward, and pleasure. When we encounter something like a delicious cupcake or a cute puppy photo on Facebook, dopamine gets released in the brain. The idea behind dopamine fasting is that we may be getting too much of a good thing in today’s attention economy, and we need to carve out time without stimulation from things that can become addictive — smartphones, TV, internet, gaming, shopping, gambling — so that we can regain control over how we spend our time.

James Sinka, a young, San Francisco-based startup founder and dopamine faster, told the New York Times, “I avoid eye contact because I know it excites me. I avoid busy streets because they’re jarring. I have to fight the waves of delicious foods.”

The rise of dopamine fasting is unsurprising amid what we might call the ascetic turn of Silicon Valley. In recent years, tech bros and those they influence have been embracing monkish practices.

Dopamine floods your system when you experience unanticipated things — finding chocolate where you didn’t expect to find any, for example. But if something becomes expected (there’s always chocolate in your office snack room at noon), then dopamine starts firing in anticipation of getting that reward. So, can somebody really fast from dopamine?