The recent snafu at the Oscars should reignite a topic that we’ve been talking about for a long time. In the early 1990s it was called internet addiction. Lately it’s been called screen addiction or tech addiction. Whatever you call it, we all know it when we see it, and some of us may see it in ourselves. I know I do.
You all know the Oscar story. An epic fail when the night’s biggest announcement, for Best Picture, was mishandled because the presenters were handed the wrong envelope (the one for best actress) by the Price Waterhouse Coopers accountants. “La La Land” was announced as the winner when the real winner was “Moonlight.”
The technology angle is this: the PwC guy backstage, Brian Cullinan, screwed up royally. Later it was learned that he was tweeting backstage on his smartphone – a photo he posted of best actress Emma Stone is all over the web. And after that it was learned that he had been “asked” ahead of time not to tweet backstage. Obviously, he had a job to do, and tweeting was not part of that. So he was told not to, yet he did. Did he not know better? Of course he did.
(Cullinan, shortly after this colossal Charlie-Foxtrot, deleted the tweet in question. Note to all: you can’t delete a tweet, once you send it to all your followers.)
Okay, mistakes happen. We all make them, although hopefully not on worldwide television. But what I see here is a good guy who wants to do his job well, yet is unable to stay off his gadget, despite being told otherwise. Hence a revival of the topic of screen addiction.
I’m now reading a fascinating new book called “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” by Adam Alter. It digs deep into this subject and it’s a sobering story.
Alter makes the case that this is a real addiction – a behavioral addiction, as opposed to chemical addictions that we usually think of first in association with that word – and that half of us (according to the publisher’s blurb), “would rather suffer a broken bone than a broken phone.”
This addiction has a real physical basis. According to Alter “We are engineered in such a way that as long as an experience hits the right buttons, our brains will release the neurotransmitter dopamine. We’ll get a flood of dopamine that makes us feel wonderful in the short term, though in the long term you build a tolerance and want more.”
As a parent, you may bemoan your child’s devotion (or obsession) with video games, screens, social media and the like. But when you check your smartphone at a long red light, or as the last thing before hitting the pillow at night, are you really any different? I describe myself in this example.
Dr Alter is an associate professor at the Stern School of Business at NYU and he makes a strong case for the negative consequences of this addiction, and describes vividly the relentless campaign by the tech industry to get us hooked and keep us hooked.
He was interviewed in the New York Times recently (“Why we can’t look away from our screens”) and it’s well worth reading. Among his insights are “game producers will often pretest different versions of a release to see which one is hardest to resist and which will keep your attention longest.” And “I spoke with a young man who sat in front of this computer playing a video game for 45 consecutive days. The compulsive playing had destroyed the rest of his life.”
This is a serious topic and it’s not just about our kids playing video games; we are all hooked to some extent. As with any cure, the first step is to acknowledge the problem. Only then can we regain control.
Readers of this blog know that I do not scoff at the advance of technology and innovations: on the whole I embrace them. But no addict is in control of himself, and I refuse to let others addict me. We need to be the ones in control.
Perhaps the most telling story in Alter’s book is the description of how many tech leaders have restricted the use of technology by their own kids; they know too well the dangers. And get this: Steve Jobs was the father of the iPad, but he never let his own kids use one.