The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked

Penguin Press, 2017 more...

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Adam Alter notes that those who design tablets, smartphones and similar technologies often don’t let their kids anywhere near them. He thinks this should alarm you. Alter cites research indicating that nearly half the global population fits the definition of behaviorally addicted – mostly to the habituation designed into games, social media and apps. He reviews the techniques digital designers use to build dependencies in users. His report is important to anyone – especially parents – seeking a better understanding of the powerful pull of the digital world.

Half the global population suffers from at least one behavioral addiction.

Alter details how developers and engineers design smartphone and tablet-based entertainment – social media, games and apps – to create user dependence. Video games, social media, email, games, gambling and a variety of apps ensnare half the global population into at least one addictive behavior by offering constant feedback, precisely calibrated challenges, compelling social connectivity, and rewards in the form of likes, comments, bells, whistles, leader boards, and such. These techniques and tools are so powerful, the author laments, that many designers forbid their children to use tablets and smartphones.

Obsessions with email, social media and apps harm health, livelihoods and relationships.

Behavioral addictions consume a lot of time, crowding out work, family relationships, friendships and sleep. For example, Alter says 40% of the people who play the online video game World of Warcraft (WoW) “consider themselves addicted” to it. He explains that this means there are tens of millions of WoW addicts worldwide. “There isn’t a bright line between addicts and the rest of us,” Alter writes. “We’re all one product or experience away from developing our own addictions.”

About the Author

Adam Alter, PhD, teaches at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

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