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Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

What is the book Irresistible about?

Adam Alter describes one of the dark sides of the technological revolution that led to the emergence of new forms of dependent behaviour. We are accustomed to using all sorts of gadgets; we communicate in social networks even on the way to work; we do not imagine life without a smartphone, and the lack of the Internet is quite capable of causing us severe depression.

However, those who are directly engaged in high technology gradually realized the danger of their attractiveness. Steve Jobs did not allow his young children to use the iPad. In an interview with New York Times, he said that he and his wife minimize their kids’ communication with many gadgets and computers. The same was done by other celebrities from the IT world.

Greg Hochmuth, one of the Instagram engineers, noticed that over time a person is tempted to look through all possible hashtags; he gets used to constant pressing the buttons and following the links, and he does not notice the behavioural dependence development. The same thing happens with users of Facebook and other social networks. Only a few try to resist this addiction. And it’s not because the majority lacks willpower, but because the developers of IT products, in the author’s opinion, are trying to break down the mechanisms of human self-regulation, getting a direct benefit from this addiction, which increasingly becomes similar to drug addiction.

What is drug addiction? We used to think that drug addicts are people who use heroin or cocaine, as well as smoking weed. But this understanding, according to Alter, is too narrow, and drug addiction is not always associated with the use of chemicals.

Where does drug addiction occur? It is in a certain environment and circumstances, where there is a constant temptation. Therefore, Steve Jobs limited the communication of his children with the wonders of technology, knowing their captivating power well. Good software products and gadgets lure everyone into their networks indiscriminately and gradually we get addicted to our computer partialities. And it is all the more dangerous that it is impossible to imagine the modern world without the Internet and the computer.

50-60 years ago, people became dependent on cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. But in our digital age, there are many more such ‘hooks’: Instagram, Facebook, online stores, porn sites and so on. There were never so many hooks before, and we have just started to think about it. Access to them is extremely fast and easy, that is why the addiction is formed rapidly too.

The creators of digital products, especially Internet pages, are constantly improving the technology of impact on the consumer, studying what background colours, fonts, and sound signals increase involvement.

According to the author, addictive, or dependent behaviour, has been known for a long time, but nowadays the dependencies are becoming more diverse and they are increasingly difficult to resist. New addictions, although not related to the use of chemicals, produce the same effect as drugs.

Another drug is an active pursuit of a goal, which is usually considered a boon. Everyone focused on the advantages of dedication and forgot about its shortcomings. Purposefulness was a useful motivational tool, but now people prefer to get more in less time. And they do not have an emergency brake.

Alter’s familiar psychiatrists noted that almost every one of their patients has a behavioural dependence: gambling, online shopping, social networks, e-mail. Many suffer from their predilections, but they are much easier to hide than drugs addiction. This makes them dangerous, makes it possible to develop unnoticed for many years. The desire to communicate in social networks can absorb a person so much that he will interrupt a conversation in an interview or a date to mark something with ‘lie’ or comment on a post. Gradually, there is an aberration from reality.

By themselves, IT technologies are neither good nor bad. Applications and platforms are designed to promote good social connections, but can also be targeted to potential addicts. Today, according to Alter, many developers encourage dependence. Virtual reality causes such a range of feelings that there necessarily is a ground for abuse.

Behavioural dependence has six features:

  1. The convincing goals that you want to achieve;
  2. The unpredictable positive feedback;
  3. The sense of gradual progress and improvement;
  4. The tasks that become more difficult over time;
  5. The unsolved problems;
  6. The strong social ties.

Modern behavioural addictions have at least one of these features. Instagram causes addiction, because some photos attract a lot of ‘likes’, while others attract less of them. In pursuit of the ‘likes’, users post photos one by one in anticipation of reaction to them and constantly return to the site to check how they were perceived, whether there are any new ‘likes’. Gamers play online games for several days in a row, as they are forced to complete the game missions, and because they have strong social connections with other gamers.

Our environment is a very fertile ground for addictions. Alcoholics can avoid old friends and the places where they gather, like bars. But what should a person that struggles with Internet addiction do in a world where the Internet cannot be abandoned? He is forced to use e-mail, a computer, and a smartphone because most jobs involve their use.

Abstaining from high technology is impossible, but there are other alternatives. The main thing is to realize there is a danger of dependent behaviour and limit oneself, try not to disconnect from reality, do not throw up the work duties, elementary hygiene (as it often happens with gamers) and real human relationships outside social networks. And then we can abandon the harmful habits that form the addiction, and use only those aspects of IT technologies that help us.

Summary and Ideas of Irresistible

  1. Dependence is a deep affection for such an experience, which it is difficult to do without
  2. Behavioural dependence makes us less effective in work and reduces communication with other people
  3. We are too fascinated by technology and prefer not to notice its side effects
  4. Behavioural dependence can occur in any of us under appropriate conditions
  5. Networked computer games addiction, like drug addiction, arises and is fixed in a certain environment
  6. Dependent behaviour causes the same brain reaction as drug addiction
  7. An obsessive desire for a goal is also one of the forms of dependent behaviour
  8. Feedback in social networks and video games also causes a behavioural dependence
  9. The obsession to watch serials is caused not so much by their artistic value, rather by the desire to find out the end
  10. Parents should take care of preventing addictions in children from an early age

Review Irresistible

Many things in the book by Adam Alter may seem an exaggeration, but it is only at first glance. We are so used to using technology that we completely overlooked all the side effects, taking them unconditionally and considering them useful. The danger of new addictions is that their negative effect is noticeable not immediately, but after a considerable time, when we understand that we preferred the fictional world, which only seemed seductive at first, to the reality. The book makes us wonder which part of life we spend, remaining on the hook at our own will.

Pros and Cons:

Interesting examples; valuable ideas; simple exposition.

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