Book: Irresistible - Are We Lack of Will Power or Wired That Way?
Having experienced obsessively refreshing the website and checking how many likes I got in the early days of Facebook, a hate-it-but-can-not-stop-doing-it behavior that I couldn’t explain myself, I hope that this book - Irresistible, would provide more insights on this topic.
With the question in mind, I started reading.
This is my “Peek into the Future” series of reading, a “sequel” of the previous book I read - “Thank You for Being Late”. Both books reflect on the issues caused by current technologies, while this one focuses on the behavioral addiction in smartphones, video games, wearable techs, emails, and so on.
Precious, Timely and Relevant
A Reflect on the Ethics of Design
It’s the first book I read that questions the ethics of design of video games, wearable techs, social networks and upcoming VR tech. After years of trial and error, designers have learned and become capable of engineering a system that could abuse the weakness of human being, a weaponized product through thousands of tests that could easily outpace our willpower.
Also, as a software engineer, my company as any other companies, want people to use our products simply, more. The more people use the better. No companies would say “it’s enough”.
But imagine this, if they use our products 24x7x365, does it improve their lives or rather cause destructions? If I were in a company developing a highly addictive service like YouTube or Netflix or World of Warcraft that keeps so many users hooked to a degree that they can’t stop even they want to, would I just blame them lack of willpower and self controls, or would I have this self-consciousness to say, “here we are abusing the human weakness, using it to our advantage, and it’s evil”? Quote the book, “There are a thousand people on the other side of the screen who job it is to break down the self-regulation you have.”
It made me think about the responsibilities as “the guy on the other side of the screen”, to re-examine the ethics when designing a product.
One interesting fact I learned and got surprised was that Steve Jobs chose to not give an iPad to his kids. Evan Williams, a founder of Twitter and Medium, bought hundreds of books for his two young sons but refused to give them an iPad. “As if the people producing tech products were following the cardinal rule of drug dealing: never get high on your own supply.”
A Reflect on the Parenting
There are some great pieces in the book that showcased why too much time in front of a screen can affect a child’s empathy.
Cyberbullying, or even any other mean conversations sent through message apps, provides zero nonverbal cues, hence hard for children to build empathy.
“Screens” makes parenting easy. But the book calls for more.
Parents have always taught their children how to eat, when to sleep, and how to interact with other people, but parenting today is incomplete without lessons on how to interact with technology, and for how long each day.
After reading it, I imagined, if I want to be a role model for my kids in the future, how I should behave myself these days, and this book showed some methods.
A Reflect on the Grit vs Addiction
When I was half way through the book, I can’t help but comparing it to the other book Grit (and I almost shouted out when it literally used the word “grit” once in the book!). For the almost same stories - like a long-time runner who runs everyday for nearly 40 years - in the other book it’d be modeled as the perfect role model of grit, but here it could be treated as a behavioral addict.
What’s the difference? It’s the mindset. If he pictures the exercise as a core activity to live a healthy life and chooses to do it every day, then it’s a display of true grit. But if he’s driven by the numbers/goals shipped from the wearable techs, feeling irresistible of breaking the streaks, forcing himself to go out even when he’s physically ill, that’s an addiction.
Here Is the Big But…
The most critical problem is, you won’t learn that much about what the book was titled to teach - ingredients of the behavioral addiction and how to engineer it. You’d get that kind of “aha” moments a lot, but each chapter is not explained in full lengths, and it rarely pieces them altogether.
It felt like the same cotton candy wispy knowledge I get from reading hundreds of articles on my phone but having trouble recounting what I really know now after all that consumption
(One review from Goodreads)
And after 10+ chapters of reviewing the history and revealing the components, you’d expect some sort of solutions or redemptions. Ironically, after criticizing addictive games all the way through, in the end it uses gamification at length as the suggestion to encourage and overcome some of the issues. Too thin.
Lastly, just a preference, but the writing is a little dry.
Some of the great quotes
Where once you had to seek out new goals, today they land, often uninvited, in your inbox and on your screen.
(On the “like” button on Facebook) Users were gambling every time they shared a photo, web link, or status update. A post with zero likes wasn’t just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation… Like pigeons, we’re more driven to seek feedback when it isn’t guaranteed.
“I worry what happens when a violent video game feels like murder. And when pornography feels like sex. How does that change the way humans interact, function as a society?”
Wearable techs like the Apple Watch and Fitbit allow you to track your workouts, but they also discourage you from paying attention to your body’s internal exhaustion cues.
Further Reading & Watching
I’ve tweeted on the same topics before, and I still enjoy reading/watching them again.
- Ted Talk - How better tech could protect us from distraction | Tristan Harris
- If the internet is addictive, why don’t we regulate it?
- Get your loved ones off Facebook
What’s next for Me?
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life
This was directly mentioned in the book, I feel this is exactly the “system” I want to build into my life.
Instead of goals, live your life by systems. A system is “something you do on a regular basis that increases your odds of happiness in the long run.” For a cartoonist, that might be drawing one cartoon per day; for a write, writing five hundred words per day. In contrast to goals, systems bring a steadier stream of low-grade highs. They’re guides to a fulfilling life, day by day, rather than enticing pictures of some grand end goal without instructions for how to get there.
As for the continuous reading of the “futures”, I have these 2 books in mind particularly:
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable, and What We Can Do About It. A quick Ted talk to get the idea: https://www.ted.com/talks/marc_goodman_a_vision_of_crimes_in_the_future
The 100-year Life - Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, I don’t want to retire :)
Ready Player One, it’s a fiction set in the future where living in the VR world becomes the norm.