[Mar] Detoxing from 'Dopa-ming'

Date Mar 22, 2024

(Courtesy of shutterstock)

(Courtesy of shutterstock)

“Trend Korea 2024,” an annual publication that describes what’s new in the country, introduced the neologism “dopa-ming.” A portmanteau, dopa-ming combines the hormone “dopamine” with gaming slang “farming,” or the practice of methodically collecting money, powerups and other items to improve a player’s in-game abilities. While “dopa-ming” basically means pleasure-seeking and stimulus-chasing, it implies a level of pursuit that goes far beyond just having fun.


Many readers have probably had the experience of casually sitting down to watch a video only to lose track of time completely. Short-form video content delivers a quick blast of pleasure and information that jolts the brain into releasing the hormone dopamine. This neurotransmitter created by the central nervous system helps us feel joy, pleasure and excitement. But pleasure, when pushed too far, takes a terrifying turn toward addiction.


The algorithm uses extended viewing of short video clips to produce a constant content stream designed to arouse the viewer’s brain. Excessive viewing can cause the central nervous system to atrophy. This can lead to “popcorn brain,” a condition where interest in everyday life is lost and it becomes difficult to engage with the real world because one’s concentration is so degraded.


Repeated exposure to such an environment can lead to feelings of lethargy and depression. The end result is a vicious cycle in which one is driven back to social media for another quick hit of dopamine.


Addiction to short-form video content, with its rapid blasts of overstimulation and information, can have a disruptive impact on our daily lives.

Addiction can be defined as engaging in an activity that interferes with one’s daily life or the inability to refrain from an activity despite its negative consequences.


More and more young people are willing to try a “dopamine detox” to break away from the pursuit of momentary pleasure and instant gratification. Social media posts where users boast about completing a dopamine detox challenge are increasing.


The first part of a dopamine detox, also known as dopamine fasting, involves determining what brings pleasure and what causes anxiety. The most effective type of detox involves fasting from activities that provide excessive pleasure.


This dopamine detox zone took inspiration from a jjimjilbang experience. Visitors must hand over their smartphones to get a locker key to enter. (Courtesy of SK telecom Newsroom)This dopamine detox zone took inspiration from a jjimjilbang experience. Visitors must hand over their smartphones to get a locker key to enter. (Courtesy of SK telecom Newsroom)

The next key step is to find some substitute activities. If possible, those should be things like exercise, walks, knitting or reading that don’t provide immediate gratification but generate feelings of self-efficacy.


If you’re on a dopamine fast, you may also want to try out an analog hobby with a low-entry threshold, such as decorating a journal, putting together a sticker book or assembling a “gatcha pouch”  a see-through bag filled with figurines available from vending machines.


Given the growing awareness of the importance of a dopamine detox, more establishments are offering various ways to block dopamine rushes.


There are cafes set up exclusively for customers who come alone that encourage visitors to indulge in some daydreaming, while some book cafes require all visitors to hand over their smartphones before entering – and there are often long lines of people waiting to do just that.


Companies are also coming up with original experience zones for dopamine detoxes. A pop-up store run by a local sofa brand was filled with comfy couches and shelves stuffed with books instead of Instagrammable spots or merchandise counters. That pop-up store only let in ten people every two hours, ensuring that visitors could relax at their leisure, whiling away time by reading or playing with Lego bricks.

Scores from these self-administered tests indicate dopamine addiction levels. (Courtesy of SK telecom Newsroom) Scores from these self-administered tests indicate dopamine addiction levels. (Courtesy of SK telecom Newsroom)

In addition, one local telecom company set up an “experiential exhibition” with a jjimjilbang (Korean sauna) theme and a sign above the entrance that read, “Sweat it out – let us drain your dopamine.” Before receiving their locker key, visitors had to fill out a questionnaire about their dopamine addiction and then hand over their cellphones to a staffer. The experience zones included areas for reading, taking quizzes, meditating and receiving a reward for completion.


In the meditation area, visitors were given an MP3 player and wired earphones for a pre-smartphone era musical encounter. The quiz area was stocked with immersive activities, including Sudoku sheets, find-the-hidden-object pictures and coloring books. After lowering their dopamine levels through these activities, visitors received a personalized towel with their name stitched on it as proof that they had completed all of the cellphone-free experiences.


The reality is that at a time when everything we do seems to be fodder for another social media post, it’s not easy to set aside our cellphones. But as the downsides of these habits grow more severe, not only individuals but also corporations are taking steps to break away from our dopamine addiction.


When instant gratification fizzles out, we’re left with a feeling of emptiness and purposelessness. But with a little effort and some creative activities, we can slowly but surely achieve a sense of self-efficacy and accomplishment.

Source Indication(Type 1)

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism's "Korea Here & Now" work can be used under the condition of "Public Nuri Type 1 (Source Indication)."