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Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter
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Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter

Adam Alter’s Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (Penguin, 2017) is a seductive read. The pre-release buzz was enormous, the testimonies impressive, and the back-cover blurbs intriguing. Upon its publication, it was immediately labeled an Amazon “best of March,” customer reviews averaged 4.4 out of 5 stars, and it seemed to be on everyone’s reading list in the spring and early summer.

There’s little denying that it reads fairly well. Alter’s writing style is similar to that of many very smart, very educated scientists writing for the intelligent, well-read layperson. His tone is conversational, and his word choice is accessible but not condescending. He strikes that credible balance between anecdotal support and scholarly evidence, and most of it is fascinating.

Alter builds his case early: technology and entertainment nowadays are designed by very smart people to keep you hooked. Citing “design ethicist” Tristin Harris, he says the problem isn’t that people lack willpower, but that “there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.” He adds that early in Instagram’s development, one of its founding engineers realized he was “building an engine for addiction.”

While largely cautionary, the author’s tone offers some positives for our constant bombardment by addicting temptations. While fitness tracking by design feeds the same addictive compulsions as World of Warcraft, the differences are plain. Being compelled by a beep from your wristband to get out and exercise is much healthier than being compelled by your online peers to finish just one more quest with your Night Elf brethren. Yet even an addiction to your FitBit comes with pitfalls when you’re so motivated (by your streak of 10,000-step days, by the resulting endorphins, or by the social competition FitBit encourages in the name of accountability) to exercise that you push through injuries when you should be resting and recovering.

Although Irrisistible is an enjoyable read, it doesn’t deliver what it seems to promise, a bigger-picture view of us as an addicted, smartphone-ruled society. A scientist sometimes doesn’t like gazing into the crystal ball, but some statement on current trends and what they could mean for the alienated (that is, the non-addicted) and the all-in, perhaps in such specific realms as education, entertainment, and politics, could have made this great.

Instead, we get a lot of evidence for our continuing buy-in on addictive behaviors without a lot to say beyond “here’s what’s happening” and “here’s why.” The “so what?” question isn’t addressed, at least not as it applies to the collective us as a society, and that’s a major flaw. Recommended with caution for those interested in this addiction by design, but not for those hoping for a more Megatrends kind of view.

 

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Book Review: Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology & The Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter - Executive Leadership Articles

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