“Irresistible” is the title of a book by Adam Alter. Its subtitle is “The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked.” This is an important book because it addresses an important problem, the addiction to computer games. The World of Warcraft (WOW) is perhaps the most egregious example in which lives have been and are continuing to be ruined. The statistics will not be belabored here. They are well presented in “Irresistible” along with numerous personal stories. “Behavioral addiction” was discussed in a previous healthymemory blog post “Beware the Irresistible Internet.” There is a series of posts based on Dr. Mary Aiken’s book, “The Cyber Effect” that has addressed this problem. Additional healthy memory posts on this topic can be found by entering “Sherry Turkle” into the search block of the healthymemory blog. What is especially alarming is that Adam Alter makes a compelling argument that game makers are getting better at making their games irrestible, that is behaviorally addicting.
Of course, not all games are bad. “Gamification” is a term for games devoted to beneficial ends, such as education. This can be very beneficial when learning, that could be tedious, is transformed into an entertaining game, which could be played for its entertainment value alone. Good arguments can be made for these games provided that their educational benefits are documented. However, even if it were possible, it would be dangerous if all of education were gamefied. Not everything in life is enjoyable, and part of the educational process should be learning to assure the students persevere even when learning becomes difficult and frustrating.
Alter also does a commendable review of treatments for behavioral addictions and preventive measures to decrease the likelihood of addiction. The book begins with Steve Jobs telling the New York Times journalist Nick Bilton that his children never used the iPAD, “We limit how much technology our kids use in theme.” Bolton discovered that other tech giant imposed similar restrictions. A former editor of “Wired,” Chris Anderson, enforced strict time limits on every device in his home, “because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand.” After relating the way tech giants controlled their childrens’ access to technology lAlter wrote, “It seemed as if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply.”
Perhaps one of the most informative studies related in “Irresistible” is not specifically about addiction. It related a paper published by eight psychologists in the journal “Science.” In one study they asked a group of undergraduate students to sit quietly for twenty minutes. They were told that their goal was to entertain themselves with your thoughts as best you can. That is, your goal should be to have a pleasant experience, as opposed to spending time focusing on everyday activities or negative things.” The experimenters hooked up to a machine that administers electric shocks, and gave them a sample shock to show that the experience of being shocked isn’t pleasant. The students were told that they could self-administer the shock if they wanted to, but that “Whether you do so is completely up to you.” It was their choice.
One student shocked himself one hundred and ninety times. That’s once every six seconds, over and over for twenty minutes. Although he was an outlier, two thirds of all male students and about one in three female students shocked themselves at least once. Many shocked themselves more than once. By their own admission in a questionnaire they didn’t find the experience pleasant, so they preferred to endure the unpleasantness of a shock to the experience of sitting quietly with their thoughts.
Upon rereading this experiment HM became convinced that the teaching of mindfulness and meditation should be mandatory in the public school. If so these students would have taken advantage of the situation to be “in the present ” and to meditate, just as they would if they found themselves stuck in traffic or being forced to wait. (See the healthy memory blog post, “SPACE”)
Perhaps HM is a “goody two-shoes” but he has never been attracted to games. He never cared how much he scored on a pin ball machine. He is the same with respect to computer games. They strike him as pointless activities, so he never plays them.
It strikes HM that public education is avoiding a key responsibility. Students need to understand from an early age that their time on earth is limited. This should not send them into panic or to avoid enjoyable pursuits. But a question should be asked regarding any pursuit is what value does the pursuit have. It is okay for some pursuits to be pursued for enjoyment alone. But there are also pursuits, which in addition to being enjoyable, provide both personal benefits as well as societal benefits.
Ideally one should pursue a life with purpose as was related in the posts on Victor Strecher’s book “Life on Purpose.” This provides for a benefiting an fulfilling life. In the healthymemory blog post “SPACE” Stretcher argues for pursuing a healthy lifestyle to further the ends of living a life with purpose.
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