A nation of tech addicts
from: thepointopinion by Michael J. Fitzgerald
The U.S. is becoming — or perhaps has become — a nation of addicts.
And not the usual suspect addictions: drugs, cigarettes or alcohol.
Electronics, products of the digital age, are hooking nearly everyone, every age, every demographic. And this addiction helps to create and sustain multi-billion dollar industries to keep the addictions going and growing.
That’s among the conclusions of Adam Alter’s new best-selling book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.”
If you just stopped reading this column to check your smartphone, email, Facebook, or peeked at Twitter to see if President Donald Trump lit up another head of state in the last 10 minutes, you fit the book’s problem profile.
The ability to concentrate on a single task for even a short length of time is a casualty of the digital age.
“In the 1960s, we swam through waters with only a few hooks: cigarettes, alcohol and drugs that were expensive,” he writes. “In the 2010s, those same waters are littered with hooks ... the Facebook hook ... the Instagram hook ... the online shopping hook ... We’re only just learning the power of these hooks.”
The hooks he writes about are behavioral addictions, harder to spot than substance abuse. They are particularly prevalent in younger people who have grown up immersed in a dazzling array of digital shiny baubles.
But the young are not alone.
Alter includes binge-watching television among problem areas for many people. Ditto the video game World of Warcraft, considered one of the most addictive video games ever created. It’s played by young and old alike.
The aggressive customer-snaring strategies of companies providing the hardware and software for this endless digital stream should give pause, too.
The problem isn’t necessarily the willpower of the user, Alter says. “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.”
It’s quite telling that the late Steve Jobs of Apple would not let his children use an iPad, one of Apple’s signature products.
Similar stories are relayed in the book about other high-tech giants like the former editor of Wired Magazine and one of the founders of Blogger, Medium and Twitter.
“It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own product.”
Residents of the Finger Lakes are certainly not immune to the electronic and social media addictions detailed out in “Irresistible.”
But the region has a secret weapon for keeping use of the digital world in balance: the great outdoors.
Recent studies show that silence — something that’s relatively easy to obtain in the Finger Lakes — is an amazingly powerful tonic for restoring frayed nerves and to boost energy and spirits.
That’s true silence. Not just turning off the Twitter app on your smartphone or leaving your busy office to stand in the parking lot.
True silence is getting out in nature where natural sounds eclipse any man-made noise that keeps people constantly on guard.
The need for this kind of mental rehab was noted in the “Harvard Business Review” last Friday.
“Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer,” wrote authors Leigh Marz and Justin Talbot-Zorn. “It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think what to say.”
Though “Irresistible” paints a portrait of a nation in digital distress, Alter is optimistic about dealing with digital behavioral addictions.
“If app designers can coax people to spend more time and money on a smartphone game, perhaps policy experts can also encourage people to save more for retirement or donate more to charities.”
They could also suggest people go out and breathe some fresh air, too. Finger Lakes air is some of the best in the land.
Fitzgerald worked for six newspapers as a writer and editor as well as a correspondent for several news services. He splits his time between Valois, NY and Pt. Richmond, Calif. You can email him at Michael.Fitzgeraldfltcolumnist@gmail.com and visit his website at michaeljfitzgerald.blogspot.com.
(Editor's note: The following column appeared in the March 24, 2017 issue of the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva, NY.)