Marginal utility: when the best possible thing start to suck after a short time. You know this happens, but you seek out the next short-lived firework anyway.
Before starting the search, remember: everything is marginal utility.
It’s all downhill from here
Since I didn’t understand marginal utility, I learned a painful lesson last week.
Somehow, I found the best possible version of exactly what I’m addicted to. It almost can’t be better, unless they sharpen the graphics. I was grinning like an idiot, ecstatic at the highest possible high.
…and then it faded. Took only a few days.
I saw its limitations, its imperfections. It stopped being compelling once I unlocked everything. Even the parts I repeated, the best of the best of the best, lost their luster.
How could this happen, when it started out an 11/10?
Because everything is marginal utility.
What is marginal utility?
In economics, margins are quantitative change. Utility is consumer satisfaction. And marginal utility means that as you consume more, you enjoy it less. The first slice of pizza always tastes better than the sixth.
The point is, anything you overdo makes you sick. Burnt out, nauseous, disgusted by…
Once is enough to cement memories of pain, but addiction, of course, is doing something despite the consequences (which you already know) because the initial high excites you. (Dopamine, the motivation chemical, spikes when you think about how good it’ll be, when you start craving.)
Even when it’s the hundredth time and you know it’s gonna hurt after, in that moment, dopamine shoots you forward.
Hence why you should eat not to dullness. (my best article btw)
But what if there was a way to squash that dopamine spike before it tempts you down the wrong path?
Enter marginal utility.
(crisper, higher-quality version available on my Pinterest page.)
It may just be as simple as awareness.
Marginal utility vs. updates
I’ve experienced it, and you probably have, too. Just because there’s new content (update, scroll, video) doesn’t mean it’ll be better. In my experience, it’s ALWAYS worse than my expectations.
(and checking for updates is just operant conditioning!)
Not that you should be cynical. Just aware that you hype it up and it’s never as good as the hype.
The hype is the problem. Kill it. Everything is marginal utility.
See this short, cute video.
That little kiwi never came across a different color nugget. It’s hard enough to break addiction to one color. Imagine if scientists, engineers, and psychologists had a plethora of colors and flavors.
So how do we beat such tailor-made superstimuli?
“…the main change is awareness. Awareness that the reason we are drawn to sickly desserts is because they are sweeter than any naturally-occurring fruit. Awareness that watching television activates the primitive ‘orienting response’, keeping our eyes drawn to the moving pictures as if it were predator or prey. Awareness that liking ‘cute’ characters comes from a biological urge to protect and nurture our young.
I have not removed supernormal stimuli from my life, nor do I intend to do so fully. The key is spotting the stimuli as they appear, and engaging the mind to regulate or override temptation.”
– Stuart McMillen, comic artist, “supernormal stimuli”
Technology advances all the time. Things will only get more addictive, more bespoke, more boasted-about.
The question is: will you tame your tech or will your tech tame you?
The “better” they are, the more they hurt after. Some videos haven’t left my mind years later, POMO or otherwise.
You know this; it’s happened to you.
Remember: everything is marginal utility. It’ll always be disappointing. It’ll always be worse.
Successfully resist once, then again, and its power over you becomes a downward trend.