Addictive tech is taking over our lives. Here’s how to push back

News & Events

Adam Alter, Ph.D., New York Times bestselling author of "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked," will be the keynote speaker for the 2019 Healthy Nevada Speaker Series Nov. 18 at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts. 

Ten years ago, the average person could look at a photo and concentrate for 12 seconds. Today, our attention span has dropped to eight seconds.

A goldfish can focus for nine.

What gives? Professor, researcher and New York Times bestselling author Adam Alter, Ph.D., attributes our shrinking attention span to the advent of so-called addictive tech items like the iPhone and iPad (items that are—not coincidentally—prohibited in the homes of the same innovators who brought them to market).

In his most recent book, "Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked," Alter explores how technology is straining our relationships and fueling a frenetic, round-the-clock work culture.

As the keynote speaker for UNR Med's 2019 Healthy Nevada Speaker Series Nov. 18, Alter presented ideas for creating a more sustainable relationship with technology. We asked him about tech addiction, how it's affecting us and what we can do.

Reducing our use of technology is a huge challenge because our society relies on screens so much. What tools would you share for those who are trying to overcome tech addiction?

Technology can be completely mindless—a day goes by and you have spent five hours on screens. When you look back at your lifetime and add all of those mindless minutes, did you mean to spend 12 years of your life on screens?

Be mindful in pushing back. Be sure the moments you spend in front of screens are the moments you want to be there. For me, it is setting up habits: I will never be at the dinner table with a screen. I also recommend putting phones in airplane mode for the weekend; that way you can use the phone for photos, without allowing it to dictate the weekend.

What are "stopping points" and how can they help?

We used to have these natural "end points" built into our lives-you reach the end of the newspaper, the back of a magazine, the end of the TV episode and you stop and change activities. But tech stops reminding us. Casinos have been doing that forever with no clocks, no windows and the absence of any stopping cues.

Instead of relying on the content, we need to create our own stopping cues: turn off post-play for Netflix, set an alarm, put your phone in the next room.

Another trick is the "cliffhanger process." The first few minutes of every show is resolving a cliffhanger from the last. Watch the last five minutes of one episode to the last five minutes of the next one so you are always staying behind the cliffhanger.

What is the developmental effect of technology on children?

Children do not innately know how to be good social humans. They make the mistake of natural selfishness. It's evolutionary; they have to get the resources to survive. Eventually, they develop a higher level of thinking and learn to interact with the world through trial and error.

If those interactions are on screens, you don't see the immediate responses of others, and you don't develop the ability to discern between subtle emotions.

You have two children under 5. What is the screen policy in your home?

They have no access to iPads, but they do watch a little TV—something like Sesame Street, or a video about counting—there's always a strong education component. That is consistent with what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

Despite what I study, I am not puritanical about screen use. It does not mean we have to live in caves and get flip phones. We just want to jettison the worst of it.


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The University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, Nevada's first public medical school, is a community-based, research-intensive medical school with a statewide vision for a healthy Nevada. Established in 1969, UNR Med is improving the health and well-being of all Nevadans and their communities through excellence in student education, postgraduate training and clinical care, research with local, national and global impact and a culture of diversity and inclusion.

Released: Tuesday November 5, 2019 @ 8:00 AM