Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked
My Rating – Put it on your list
Level – Moderately easy, medium (300+) length
The subtitle is a pretty good summary of the focus of the book. Our technology is being developed at high levels to keep us coming back. However, it seems more of the book is focused on behavioral addiction as a whole than on technology specifically. I think this tactic actually makes pretty good sense, because of the popular conception of the word ‘addictive.’ Obviously, you won’t go into withdrawal from technology, the way you would from cocaine, however, when used, both ignite the same part of your brain.
The book is broken into three parts – What is behavioral addiction and where did it come from, the ingredients of behavioral addiction (or, how to engineer an addictive experience), and the future of behavioral addiction (and some solutions). The first and last part have three chapters each, while the middle has six. There is also a prologue and epilogue.
As I mentioned above, the subtitle (likely written by an editor) focuses on technology, while the book (just look at the part and chapter names) is more focused on behavioral addictions and what they are, and then how smart phones/tablets/computers and social media/actual media/apps/games effect people. In some cases the companies themselves are aware of behavioral addictions and how they work and actively employ them. Alter starts the book with the damning contrast in the 90 minute speech by Steve Jobs about the greatness of the iPad and then his biographer learning that he does not allow his kids to have one.
The book has multiple examples of what the technology addiction looks like, but I’ll just point our a few here. Maybe the most pivotal one in history was the addition of the ‘like’ button on Facebook. This is what led to the massive growth of what used to be called social networking, now called ‘media’. Obviously, people are starting to learn more and more about the dangers of Facebook in particular, with their tailored news that almost helps grow ideas that are false and certainly promotes things that are more combative. When people see likes, it is a dopamine hit, the same as cocaine. It’s also a good reminder that when a ‘product’ is ‘free’, then really you are the product and they make money selling you.
I could go on with that, but I want to point out two other milestones – Netflix and the automatic playing of the next show, and the ‘endless’ scroll. I remember, years ago now, all of sudden everyone was talking about ‘binge-watching’ TV shows. It became so popular the word eventually became an adverb and people treated it like a normal way to behave. Have you ever wondered why? That’s when Netflix started just automatically starting a show when you finished one. You had to opt out of watching.
Now, if you, like me and most humans, think you are hard working and fairly intelligent, you are wrong. Humans are incredibly lazy and easily manipulated. My favorite example of this is two countries that speak the same language, boarder each other, and have similar cultures, but one donates organs at a rate in the 80’s, while the other’s is in the 20’s. What is the difference? One auto enrolls you on your license, the other you have to opt in. That’s essentially 60% of the population that can’t be bothered to check a box, either way.
Of course, the companies know these things. They don’t want you to have to back out of the episode and do the ‘work’ to watch the next. If all you have to do is sit, they’ll have you for hours. It’s called ‘removing the friction’. Another example of this is endless scroll. On sites like Reddit, there used to be pages, and you’d scroll down through maybe 20 items then hit the bottom of the page, then you had to click next page. They, and others, have removed this, so that you can scroll in perpetuity. I noticed this a few months ago with ‘new Reddit’. I didn’t know why, but I’d be reading/scrolling, then look up and an hour had past. After reading this book, I switched back to ‘old Reddit’ and deleted the app together from my phone.
Alright, this has gone far too long for a regular review, but I find it endless fascinating. The book is littered with interesting/terrifying examples such as this. He also writes well, very quick and accessible for a professor. To keep it at a lay level, it becomes a little redundant at times, but I don’t think that is too negative. If you have any interest in behavioral addiction or the impact of technology on your life, you need to put this book on your list.