Irresistible by Adam Alter

Irresistible is a fascinating look at technology’s impact on humanity, particularly in the light of behavioral addiction.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter. Penguin, 2017. 368 pages.

  • Reading Level: Adult
  • Recommended For: Parents! (and other adults who use technology)

“You HAVE to read this book! And then we must discuss.” My friend texted me a picture of this book along with that message, and then she promptly called me to hook me further. One week later, I’d gotten the book from the library and read the entire tome.

Alter’s approach in this book is fascinating. Rather than excoriate all technology or recommend that we give up our smartphones, iPads, and music streaming services, he looks instead at why we humans are “hooked” on these devices. Alter makes the claim that vast numbers of humans in the developed world are behavior addicts (as opposed to substance addicts, like drug addicts). He unpacks the psychology of addiction, in particular behavioral addiction. Coupled with that, he examines the various strategies and technological feats that tech companies have used over the past decades to make their products more and more irresistible. Some are obvious: who doesn’t check their Instagram or Facebook account after posting a picture to see who liked it? (or how many liked it?) Some are more insidious: when Netflix moved recently to an auto-play feature, viewers now have to decide to turn off the show rather than deciding to continue watching. Games like Tetris have no clear ending point (as opposed to a game like Solitaire where a game/round actually ends).

Evolutionary language aside, Alter’s insights are compelling, as are his conclusions. Those of us who work with children and teens should pay close attention. Alter offers suggestions for prevention, from “nipping it at birth” (monitoring young children’s tech-use) to constructing our own environments consciously to help us resist behavioral addiction to tech. He also offers some ways to leverage our drives for social recognition, achievement, and creativity in positive, productive ways (such as saving money). I even wondered if the YouVersion Bible app’s new “streak” feature could be a positive: users now get a “streak” going for each day they log in to read Scripture–might be a help as long as users aren’t merely checking in to keep the streak going. All in all, Irresistible is a worthwhile read and one that offers much to think about.

Cautions: evolutionary language

Rating: 4.5

  • Worldview: 4
  • Artistic: 5

For another look at technology, see Janie’s starred review for Reinke’s 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You.

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Betsy Farquhar

Betsy is the Managing Editor at Redeemed Reader. When she reads ahead for you, she uses sticky notes instead of book darts and willfully dog ears pages even in library books. Betsy is a fan of George MacDonald, robust book discussions, and the Oxford comma. She lives with her husband and their three children in the beautiful Southeast.

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