What happens when we gut stuck doing something online

I love the phrase “getting caught in the melancholy of the infinite scroll.” That’s just one gem from Alexis Madrigal’s The Machine Zone: This Is Where You Go When You Just Can’t Stop Looking at Pictures on Facebook. He explores this strange dark side of “flow”, where we get stuck in an online activity and can’t stop doing it, even though there’s no tangible benefit:

What is the machine zone? It’s a rhythm. It’s a response to a fine-tuned feedback loop. It’s a powerful space-time distortion. You hit a button. Something happens. You hit it again. Something similar, but not exactly the same happens. Maybe you win, maybe you don’t. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. It’s the pleasure of the repeat, the security of the loop.

We certainly do seem to treat “pull to refresh” like a slot machine in a casino. And the chances of winning something valuable are about the same, too.