‘Use with Caution: may have potential side effects’ – Aiken and Alter, two book reviews

Research so far has resulted me in acquiring a stack of books. Potentially enough to operate as a piece of occasional furniture.

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Not a change to my lifestyle as I am a self-confessed bibliophile –  the more books around me the happier I am. But to put my affliction to some purpose, other than bowing bookshelves and keeping bookshops in business,  I am attempting a couple of subjective-and-sketchy book reviews.

Rather than go into deep analysis, for those would be posts in their own rights, I am providing headlines on my thoughts and opinions.

Note: my thoughts and opinions.

Sadly, I am not a pioneer, expert, published writer, professional journalist, academic, scholar, TV personality, Youtube critic in this field, nor anything else that may warrant my critique. I am learning about the dense and far-reaching topic as I explore, and it is of use to me to capture my thoughts on discoveries and how they relate to my ever-growing questions:

  • What was the lure that drew people in when Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc. were birthed from garages/dorm rooms/ideas?
  • What drives people to misrepresent themselves, and what is it they seek to gain, or indeed do gain, from doing so?
  • Why does a person choose to represent themselves in a radically differing light online opposed to offline?

Two hardbacks came to mind when I started this post, so I focus on those for now. Another three have been consumed on the online/cyberpsychology/technology/I-am-yet-to-devise-a-term list, but first let’s get started (“enough rambling, now on to the books!”).

Mary Aiken, The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behaviour Changes Online, 2016

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It disappoints me to admit, but I struggled with this to the point that little of the content enthusiastically jumps to mind as I write this. However, it was not the content that baffled me, more the way it was represented by the author. Yes, the title was extremely promising – I was immediately drawn to it at a train station Foyles branch (the perils of being early for most things = book purchases). Yes, I purchased a book based on it’s cover. Yes, I literally judged a book by its cover.

I read this last year, and as mentioned found it rather hard-going.  The tone struck me as a blended academic/ subjective observation log (fair enough), but it didn’t the deliver meaty factual nuggets particularly well when they were juxtaposed with personal (borderline judgemental) opinion. (I now recall an incident Aiken described whilst on a train – mother and child, mobile phone….).

I am not disputing the research nor content in general, but it just wasn’t exactly what I expected. Aiken’s approach primarily centred on the effects of technology and the internet on children/ teenagers. There was something about the voice of Aiken that came through the words  – it wouldn’t have surprised me to see the phrase ‘as a mother’ crop up ad nauseam . I cannot speculate on the author, as I know nothing about her other than what the book provided, but perhaps this style might fit her desired demographic. I envision that the target audience are parents/ those with parenthood in mind – generally people children/teens in their lives.

Indeed, it is interesting to read about the impact of technology in a parent’s hand, and subsequent lack of eye contact, detract from bonding with, and affecting the development of, their children. Yes, interesting – I do mean that. But still not quite delivering the promise of the title.

Whilst I appreciate exploration into how Millennials, practically born with a smartphone in their hand, will have to navigate a different climate to the preceding generations, my interest remains in trying to unearth the impact of the online on those that came before superfluous internet connections.

My questions remained.

Not a book I have on my re-read list, but I am sure it will offer a pleasurable time-passer to many.

Adam Alter, Irresistible: Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching, 2017

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I had learnt from the Aiken experience- it appeared that no single book contains the content promised on the cover, so I hopped over to Amazon to read up pre-purchase for this one. Conclusion: seemed of legitimate interest (‘seems legit’, was probably the exact thought as I was no doubt multitasking at the time and my brain creates succinct statements with two thoughts running concurrently).

Essentially, Alter makes a compelling case for the credibility of technology addiction cases, despite a formal diagnosis lacking in the DSM-V. Indeed, what society may be dealing with is a form of recognised non-substance addiction. The factual detail supporting this theory is accessible, referenced, and I had many an ‘ah-ha’ moment reading the course of Alter’s investigations.

From the birth of the first smash-hit video games (Mario, Tetris), to MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games such as World of Warcraft and Call of Duty), it was fascinating to read of the in-built addictive elements of games (I am thinking here of the term juice – new to me, but now very much aware of it’s presence in Fallout 4 [don’t judge, we all have our vices]).

The book speaks of warnings, of stories, of tactics to deal with internet addiction, whilst looking at factors key in its formulation. Even Netflix binges are put under the microscope (and I admit that Alter’s solution to prevent the cliff-hanger ‘just one more episode’ cycle is something I have put into practice, with some notable success).

Irresistible is a compelling read (perhaps Alter structured cliff-hanger theory into each chapter), acting as a warning to the ability of technology to create fixations, compulsions and addictions through designed-and-coded, subliminal means. Not meaning to sound sinister at all when I say that – indeed part of a solution to an issue is to first understand the problem. This book assists in that. Tactfully and compassionately, Irresistible acknowledges that, for some, the internet and its platforms has become the primary social source. One can approach the case studies of ‘addicts’ with mindful empathy through the relatable need for social interaction.

Ultimately, the information is presented and Alter finishes neither demonising technology for its affects on society, nor rejoicing about its invention. People are portrayed reasonably, without a judgement that is blatant. With fear of missing a glaring statement otherwise, Irresistible leaves the reader with the capacity to form their own conclusion, based on what Alter had represented (which really earnt my respect and gratitude). I sensed he wanted to acknowledge that technology and the internet have become irreversibly ingrained into the fabric of our lives, and Irresistible should serve as the warning leaflet: Use with Caution: may have potential side effects.

Irresistible is, no doubt, a re-read, and a text I will reference in the future.

 

 

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