Adam Alter


  • 42-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 12 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a professional writer and teacher with a background in literature
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Irresistible Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 42-page guide for “Irresistible” by Adam Alter includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 12 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Short-Term Benefits Versus Long-Term Harm and Focusing on Intrinsic Rewards Instead of Extrinsic Rewards.

Plot Summary

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked (2017), a nonfiction book by Adam Alter, explores the relationship between humans and addictive technologies. Alter is a professor of marketing at New York University Stern School of Business and has written other nonfiction titles about human behavior, such as Drunk Tank Pink.

The book begins with the assertion that people can easily become addicted to smartphones, video games, and other technologies. Many people spend significantly longer looking at screens than they think they do, checking their devices even when they don’t have anything pressing to do on them. Experts recommend spending no more than one hour a day using a smartphone, but many people spend at least three hours on their phones. Video games are another potentially addictive technology. One expert estimates that up to 40% of players of massively multiplayer online games become addicted, which has led to the creation of treatment centers for technology addiction around the world. Addiction to technology leads people to neglect their families and responsibilities and can have other debilitating consequences.

Stressful or unhappy circumstances can contribute to the development of addiction. For example, drug or alcohol addicts are much less likely to relapse if they have a stable environment to return to after getting clean. Just like other addictive substances, distracting or fun technologies stimulate the pleasure center of the brain and can provide a temporary escape from something in real life. However, the longer someone repeats a pleasurable behavior, the less effective it becomes. This leads to people repeating the same behavior frequently to achieve the same results. This process is the same for substance and behavioral addictions, though behavioral addictions tend to be easier to break.

There are several health reasons to break the cycle of addiction to technology. Staring at a bright screen all day can disrupt sleep patterns and cause tiredness. A lack of sleep can lead to heart disease, depression, and a host of other chronic health problems. Up to 60% of Americans do not get enough sleep, and at least some of this is because of addiction to technology and overuse of screens.

Social media and email are two types of technology that have the potential to easily become addictive. This is because they are always available and so demand constant attention. For example, an individual may receive an email and respond to it within a few seconds of its arrival. On the surface, this seems productive and efficient, but, in fact, it is another type of addictive behavior. Every time an individual receives an email, he or she must stop the current task to read and respond to the email. Once a person has been interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to return to full concentration. That means that frequently checking email ensures that the individual never reaches a state of complete concentration during the day. A 2012 study in which office workers were not permitted to check their email for several days at a time led to better performance on work tasks and increased productivity.

Social media is similarly distracting, but unlike email, it provides inconsistent rewards. Likes and engagement on social media posts provide a hit of dopamine to the brain, but not every post gathers the same number of likes. Because posters are rewarded inconsistently, they are more likely to post more often. A study conducted in the 1970s confirms this. When a group of pigeons was presented with a button that dispensed food about 70% of the time when it was pushed, those pigeons pushed the button more often than the birds in another group that were rewarded every time they pushed a button.

Having to constantly respond to and engage with technology, such as with work email and social media, causes people to feel that they can never relax. Often, people tend to seek out hardship and make life more difficult for themselves even when things are going well for them. This is often because they are addicted to a sense of achievement or meaning that comes from repeating the destructive behavior. Children are especially vulnerable to technology addiction and susceptible to addictive behaviors. When children are made to give up all technology for even a short time, they tend to score higher on empathy tests and can concentrate for longer. When trying to curb technology addiction, it is best to find something productive to substitute for it. Alter suggests taking up an off-line hobby or finding a way to engage with the real world whenever a need to mindlessly scroll through social media arises.

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