Warning: Your New Digital World Is Highly Addictive

Science has learned many lessons about what makes something addictive. And now this knowledge is being used by the tech business to gain our attention, and keep us coming back for more. In his new book, “Irresistible,” New York University associate professor of marketing Adam Alter argues that society is experiencing the beginnings of an epidemic of “behavioral addiction,” and that this could have dangerous and far-reaching implications for us all. He answered questions from Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook.

Early in your book, you say that our understanding of addiction is too narrow. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Our understanding of addiction is too narrow in two respects.

First, we typically think of addiction as a response to substances, including drugs, alcohol, and nicotine, but humans can develop addictions to a wide range of experiences, too. Recently, for example, people have developed clinical addictions to video games, social media platforms (including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat), and even Google’s augmented reality glasses, Google Glass. Since addiction is essentially the drive to engage in an immediately rewarding behavior despite negative long-term consequences for physical, mental, social or financial well-being, it can arise in response to both substance and behaviors.

Second, we tend to think of addiction as a problem that affects certain kinds of people, whereas others are in some sense immune. We refer to “addictive personalities,” for example, to describe people who are prone to addiction. In truth, we are all potential addicts waiting for the “right” circumstances to trigger our own personal addiction. For some people, that experience is loneliness and access to a video game that connects them to millions of other humans around the world. For others, that experience is depression and a social network that numbs their emotions by presenting an endless feed of information. For others, still, it might be self-doubt coupled with access to a device that counts how many steps they take each day, which encourages them to exercise more and more with each passing day until they continue exercising through debilitating injuries. Some estimates suggest that up to half the developed world has at least one so-called behavioral addiction, which suggests that addiction is a problem for the masses, rather than a problem reserved for a small group.

When did you start to see this as a real problem?
I started to see this as a problem near the end of the first decade of the 2000s, shortly after the release of the first generation of iPhones (2007) and iPads (2010). Games and social networks had been around for many years, but iPhones and iPads delivered those experiences in an irresistible, portable package. Now millions of people could play games anywhere; connect with other people anywhere; access their emails from anywhere. Accessibility is a major component of addiction—you can’t be addicted to what you can’t reach with ease—so portable screens began to drive many forms of behavioral addiction. …Read More


Source: Scientific American

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