Adam Adler’s book, ‘Irresistible’ (Penguin 2017) provides interesting insight into the role that technology plays in the life of the adolescent. Adler seeks to explore the question – Why can’t we stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching… 

Some interesting insight from the book:

Kids aren’t born craving tech, but they come to see it as indispensable. By the time they enter middle school, their social worlds migrate from the social world to the digital world … They don’t have the option of taking a break, because this is where they come for validation and friendship [and a sense of self] (p. 40)

A behaviour is addictive only if the rewards it brings now are eventually outweighed by damaging consequences … [Addictions] arise when a person can’t resist a behaviour, which, despite a deep psychological need in the short-term, produces significant harm in the long-term (p. 20)

In many respects, substance addictions and behavioural addiction are very similar. They activate the same brain regions, and they’re fueled by some of the same basic human needs: social engagement and social support, mental stimulation, and a sense of effectiveness. Strip people of these needs and they’re more likely to develop addictions to both substances and behaviours (p. 9)

The problem isn’t that people lack the willpower; it’s 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 (p. 3)

Adler maintains that the ingredients of behavioural addictions (that are often engineered into online games) include: 

  • goals (and the pressure to meet and exceed them)
  • feedback (from peers – think Facebook Likes – society and the games themselves)
  • progress (success of climbing up the ranking)
  • escalation (the illusion of progress sustains effort as high scores are achieved, which overrides intuition, intention, and even physical comfort)
  • cliffhangers (built-in techniques to override natural ‘stopping’ cues)
  • social interaction (the rise of the Instagram effect, and pseudo-connection)

There is a copy of the book in the Molteno library.