Mar 15

“Irresistible”: Adam Alter Says We’re Hooked On the Tech Stuff

The environment and circumstance of the digital age are far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in our history. Adam Alter, Irresistible

Although I usually save the book reviews for last, in this case I believe they can serve as apt descriptions of what psychology and marketing expert Adam Alter is trying to convey in Irresistible:The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017).

In reviewing Irresistible author Daniel H. Pink notes that Alter is focusing here on behavioral addiction, “a hidden danger in our lives.” Examples of tech-related addictions include “tracking social media ‘likes’ to counting our steps,” he reports. Alter concludes “our actions are being guided less by our own volition than by the architecture of the technologies we use.”

David Epstein: “In Irresistible, Adam Alter illuminates the surprising, fascinating, and frightening biological and psychological connections between a toddler hitting every button in an elevator, a surgical patient asking for painkillers, and the millions of people hooked on Facebook. No one who has ever seen an advertisement, checked their email on a smartphone, or used the Internet will come away quite the same.”

What are the actual numbers? According to Alter’s research, use of cellphones is up to three hours a day for many, video games can be weeks on end for some adolescent boys, and Snapchat users often open up their apps over 18 times a day.

Furthermore, “In one survey, 60 percent of the adults said they keep their cellphones next to them when they sleep. In another survey, half the respondents claimed they check their emails during the night.”

And that’s not all. Regarding the general incidence of behavioral addictions? “A 2011 study suggested that 41 percent of us have at least one. That number is sure to have risen with the adoption of newer more addictive social networking platforms, tablets and smartphones.”

(Stats from the last three paragraphs are from Alter’s interview with Claudia Dreifus, New York Times).

Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit: “[Alter] also illustrates the stakes: that these technologies are preventing us from forming meaningful relationships, raising empathetic children, and separating work from sleep and play.”

An appropriate conclusion from another cultural authority, Malcolm Gladwell: “As if to prove his point, Adam Alter has written a truly addictive book about the rise of addiction. Irresistible is a fascinating and much needed exploration of one of the most troubling phenomena of modern times.”

How can these types of addiction be managed by overusers? Dreifus asked Alter to comment:

I’d suggest that they be more mindful about how they are allowing tech to invade their life. Next, they should cordon it off. I like the idea, for instance, of not answering email after six at night.

In general, I’d say find more time to be in natural environments, to sit face to face with someone in a long conversation without any technology in the room. There should be times of the day where it looks like the 1950s or where you are sitting in a room and you can’t tell what era you are in. You shouldn’t always be looking at screens.