Adam Alter is a Professor of Marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business and the Robert Stansky Teaching Excellence Faculty Fellow, with an affiliated appointment in the New York University Psychology Department. His book Irresistible demonstrates the alarming grip that our smartphones have on our attention and the negative psychological effects that come with them.
What is an addiction? Addiction is basically in the beginning when you find a substance you like and you want it. And what happens very quickly is that you stop liking it. This gap emerges where your liking goes away but you still want it. And that is the destructive side of these addictive processes.
Alter focuses on the disjunction between what people continue to feel that they want, despite consistently not liking the experience itself. That angle is truly the crux of our conundrum and very illuminating. He writes
"What happens is a lot of people have a deep disliking for social media companies but they want to be on the platform. That gap says something profound. It says that they are doing something that isn’t working for the end user. There are a lot of companies that we really want to engage in. Which we love, we feel really positive about. The might be educational companies of you’re learning a new language. You find companies where wanting and liking come together as they should. And you find companies where there is this disjunction between them and you know that company has tapped into something that keeps you coming back more and more despite the fact that your liking has decades to the point where you basically hate the organization."
Like Tristan Harris stresses: the problem isn’t that people lack willpower; it’s that “there are a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job it is to break down the self-regulation you have” -- it is not going to be a fair fight.