Monday, May 29, 2017


Irresistible: Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching, Adam Alter

While on the lookout for resources for a seminar on digital technology, I stumbled across this new release. Adam Alter has investigated the alarming rise of behavioural addiction and how it’s been enabled by technology:
“Half the developed world is addicted to something, and for most people that something is a behaviour. We’re hooked on our phone and email and video games and TV and work and shopping and exercise and a long list of other experiences that exist on the back of rapid technological growth and sophisticated product design.” (p317)
Alter first analyses what a behavioural addiction is, showing how easy it is to become addicted to something and the biology behind it.

The second section outlines the ingredients of behavioural addiction and therefore how you would engineer an addictive experience. These include having attainable goals, giving positive feedback (eg. flashing lights and happy faces), a sense of progress, an escalation in difficulty (eg. need to complete more ‘steps’ today) and cliff-hangers (mainly in television shows, or that next level you just ‘have’ to get to). This section illustrates clearly how easy it is to be addicted to numerous behaviours that are assisted by technology – such as binge TV watching, calorie counting, ever increasing fitness goals, gambling, shopping, and games.

He finishes with some comments on the future of behavioural addiction, suggesting that we are only on the brink of seeing how technology could enable addiction, especially considering how virtual reality is being designed. He proposes some solution, such as how to suppress habits, using distraction and removing temptation, as well as challenging designers to accept the responsibility to design technology to be more socially responsible.

He, like Devorah Heitner (Screenwise), has identified many of the current issues with technology and how we need to navigate these paths with wisdom, using caution and consideration before we dive into any and all technology. Of course, I appreciate the extra consideration that Tim Challies (The Next Story) and James & Simon Boswell (Cyber Parenting) bring with their Christian perspective. But it’s good to see secular writers tackling these topics, and raising the flags of caution from other perspectives.

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