Dopamine Made Me Do It: Mourning for a Dead MacBook

by Sally Horowitz on July 17, 2011

The day was May 2nd and my college finals were quickly approaching. I had four papers to research and write and  hadn’t started any of them. “Not to worry,” I said to myself, “you’ve got plenty of time… just do a little writing every night before bed.” I could not have foreseen the tragedy to come.

A day later, my computer shut down forever.

It was an ancient MacBook, with a large black splotch on the screen and a habit of shutting off in the middle of Skype conversations. Things had gotten so bad in the past few years that I rarely used it, all important files were backed up.

Still, I went nuts when it died, miserably resigning myself to the school’s computer lab to finish my papers. At the lab, I was surrounded by people and noise: a boy loudly chewing gum, a girl in the corner bellowing into her cellphone. Joining the other technological refugees amid their din, I mourned for my Macbook.

But despite the noise and annoyance, I got through finals week alright. In fact, I wrote better and faster. So why had I been so upset? It wasn’t that I lost access to the internet or important files. All I lost was a feeling of possession.

I was addicted to ownership of the MacBook and the delusion of power it gave me. With feelings of ownership, of being one of the Apple elite, came a huge dose of dopamine. I didn’t care about the computer; I cared about the dopamine my brain was manufacturing.

A quick visit to the Apple website shows just what type of dopamine-inducing delusions customers are supposed to crave. The website — like the products — is clean, sleek, minimalist and highly aesthetic. It is appealingly sophisticated and futuristic. Stepping into the actual store is like boarding a spaceship, the interior sparse and spotless, with geniuses waiting to smooth your ascendance to a verified Apple Person. Customers, mingling in their post-purchase euphoria, are trained to believe that owning these products makes them part of that exciting, sophisticated future. It’s all about the illusion of power. After all, what could be more powerful than holding an iPhone — an instant connection to the entire world’s knowledge and all the other Apple users — in the palm of your hand? I even felt powerful owning the beat-up Macbook.

The good thing is that once I realized I was mourning dopamine withdrawal instead of my Macbook, not having a computer got a lot easier. The feeling of power was no longer dependent on my property or the associated status. As I write this now, weeks after finals, I am still in the computer lab; I haven’t gotten another computer, and I think it may stay like this for a while.



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