Logic and Composition
Technology is becoming addictive by the day, as attention-stealing businesses make money by mining the focus of individuals. It is safe to say that these businesses do not have people’s best interests in mind as they seek to get them hooked and addicted to applications and other of their products. Professor Adam Alter focuses on how to be smart when interacting with technology. Today addiction goes beyond substance abuse, although the effects are similar for all the cases of addiction. Behavioral addiction is an immediate reward that comes with negative long-term concerns for mental, social, physical, and financial well-being. A good example offered by Alter is the economic costs incurred by gamers purchasing games or gambling (Alter).
Adam Alter talks about stopping rules, which is cognitive inertia, that allows people to do something to a certain point, after which an individual’s cognition sends the message to stop. This is a traditional idea that does not apply to the digital world as developers have cleverly been able to eliminate these stopping rules. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook have endless feeds that keep a user scrolling. Netflix, on its part, has introduced binge watching where, unlike long-form TV, that had people watching an episode at a time, now one can continuously watch an entire season. Stopping rules have consistently been eliminated for most experiences, which is a very smart move for the part of technology developers.
Adam Alter believes that stopping rules can be built back in by hacking them into an experience as a way of managing technology usage. Some people go to the extent of not using technology at all. Some decide not to use technology at a certain time like during dinner. Alter offers an example of a stopping rule, which entails, for instance, not answering emails after a certain time, say from six in the evening. Stopping rules allow people to be in natural environments, to sit across from another person, and make conversation (Crews, Janet, & Jiaqi). The author suggests that there should be times of the day where people resort to traditional settings and live like the 1950s or relaxing with loved ones in a room that one cannot even know what era it is.
Stopping rules can be useful among individuals that have high levels of discipline. Alter himself admits that it has not been easy for him to apply stopping rules to his addiction to technology. This solution cannot work, especially if the person has not identified a problem or agreed that a problem exists. However, if one accepts that a problem exists, then they can apply the measures suggested by Alter to rectify the situation to a certain agreeable extent. It is important to note that it is close to impossible for an individual to achieve total abstinence.
However, the stopping rule method has some shortcomings because of its nature as an informal fallacy. By presuming without the use of evidence can cause fallacious reasoning (Cavender & Howard). Alter assumes that putting away the phone after some time or when the point of usage has reached a certain level, which entails excessive does not cater to other reasons for technology addiction (Alter). Experts suggest that a person suffering from technology addiction may also have an underlying condition such as anxiety and depression. With the high rate of anxiety and depression being recorded, a significant number might use technology to avoid suffering from these other conditions. It is believed that discovering underlying conditions and having them resolved may result in technology addiction resolving itself. Adding this fact to the issue of extreme discipline in order to establish stopping rules means that the solution Alter provides may not be as viable.
Alter provides solutions to this issue by suggesting a non-focus on goals but rather paying attention to systems. Technologies are created in a manner that uses shrieks to incentivize people to use a certain technology, which has resulted in people obsessing with completing a milestone in the pursuit of goals, which in the end has led to failure to be independent of technology. He describes systems as something people do to increase chances of achieving happiness in the end especially with personal time, the little time that remains after sleep, work, socializing and survival. Systems define the things that people do on a regular basis that increase the chances of achieving happiness, such as reading, writing, hobbies, and other things that allow people to focus on the process rather than paying attention to milestones and reaching unrealistic goals.
An excellent example of goals is the use of smartwatches or fitness watches. People follow a certain goal without knowing that achieving it will feel good for a moment, and then nothing more is gotten from it. In most instances, achieving a goal results in anticlimax. Immediately an individual reaches a goal, a moment of unsatisfaction is experienced, and people have to begin a new search for something new, creating a series of escalating goals. There is no psychological nourishment. Setting a goal is a period of being unsuccessful until one achieves that goal. Because of the escalation of goals, a broken process is created, which is not helpful for people that are looking to stay away from technology. Instead of having a goal to avoid using technology, it would be more effective for one to create a system like reading or spending the first hour of the day away from any device. A person should create a benchmark but instead set a system that provides details of how one operates. Creating a system, unlike goals, is geared towards psychological well-being. A goal sets a signpost that one sees from a distance and move towards while systems is a better way of engaging with the world towards an outcome.
Creating systems might be the most viable solution yet. It is almost as much fun to ride a bike or go to the field or the park as sitting in the house playing video games. Stepping out of the house is the biggest challenge, but once an individual has been able to overcome this challenge, then they are lost in these activities and can only think of their phones when they get back to the house. Reading a book is another useful activity, especially a catchy one. An individual should make a target to read 30 pages on average each day before getting into screen time. In order to make this habit to stick, an individual should pick reading materials that they will read for a long time after which they will unconsciously realize they have created a new pastime. The idea of creating systems is close to fallacies of presumption as no evidence of these systems actually being beneficial is provided. However, from a logical perspective creating systems appear valuable based on the description provided by the author.
Mental architecture or behavioral architecture is another solution Alter proposes. It is obvious that expecting people to be completely detached from technology is unrealistic. However, creating an environment that allows people to adapt and thrive without technology. Mental architecture is about creating an environment around individuals that allow them to be productive without technology. Essentially whatever surrounds people is what influences their behavior. Alter shares examples of studies that have proven that people that live closest are most likely to be friends. If we constantly see notifications on our phones, then it is most likely for us to view these particular apps. Companies and people have to create an environment around them that favor productivity.
Limiting social media use is one way of altering a problematic behavior that leads to technology addiction (Kuss & Mark). Avoiding Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat avoids aimless use of technology and allows one to use the time online meaningfully. With social media applications, logging into internet systems results in the receipt of notifications, which tempts a person to view them and eventually creates a distraction from productive internet use.
The viability of this solution is quite substantial. In his argument, Alter proposes that behavioral architecture or redesigning personal behaviors would enable people to limit the use of technology and focus the energy on other important and productive activities (Alter). However, the only way to effectively avoid temptation is by engaging in activities that distract people from technology. Professor Alter understands that ridding our lives of technology with the level of dependence that people are currently at is impossible or even entirely beneficial. The only solution thus remains to control the problematic effects of this dependence.
Alter, Adam. Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked. Penguin, 2017.
Cavender, Nancy, and Howard Kahane. “Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric: The use of reason in everyday life.” Belmont, CA: Wadsworth (2010): 42.
Crews, Charles R., Janet G. Froeschle, and Jiaqi Li. “Solution focused social interest: A targeted approach to treating internet addiction.” Paper based on a program presented at the 2011 American Counseling Association Conference, New Orleans, LA. 2011.
Kuss, Daria J., and Mark D. Griffiths. “Social networking sites and addiction: Ten lessons learned.” International journal of environmental research and public health 14.3 (2017): 311..