Cell Phone Addiction – Suggestions (and closing thoughts for the year…)

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I have been terrible about updating my blog this past month. Planning for graduation certainly doesn’t help at all. So with that being said, this will be my final thoughts for the school year. And since I don’t have tons of time at the moment to read, research, and reflect, I’m going to be as succinct as possible and try to wrap up this text with a few quick thoughts about cell phone addiction, sharing a few suggestions given by Adam Alter.

  1. Nip addiction at birth. “Today the average schoolchild aged between eight and eighteen years spends a third of her life … engrossed in new media, from smartphones and tablets to TVs and laptops. … Since the turn of the new millennium, the rate of non-screen playtime fell 20 percent, while the rate of screen playtime increased by a similar amount” (p. 237). Alter develops this point by referring to the recent birth of his own child and noting how much “screens” are used in a variety of capacities to introduce infants to the world around them. He goes on to discuss how this compromises our ability to develop relationships, read emotions, remain active and engaged, or appreciate the content more than the medium used to deliver it. Fortunately, research and science are beginning to identify these trends and equate cell-phone addiction to alcoholism, noting “either you abstain from the addictive behavior, or you’ll never shake the addiction” (p. 258).
  2. Find a replacement for addictive behaviors. Without a replacement behavior, it is nearly impossible to quit an addictive behavior. Alter makes a number of suggestions, but the most notable behavior he suggests is to simply remove temptation. Don’t cut yourself off entirely from your cellphone, but at least make it more difficult to access. Find a way to make the device less available and make it challenging to respond immediately. I suppose you could opt for something more direct, like having somebody smack you in the face every time you look at your device. Or you could simply try something simple like turning the phone off and leaving it in another room. Feel free to get creative I suppose, but don’t overthink this one. Just try to remove the temptation.

I’m not sure what all of this means for us at SkyView next year. Because of what we are learning from emerging research, there are bound to be some changes. For now, I’d at least encourage you to take a close look at your own personal habits and consider making some adjustments. I’ve tried to help make you more aware of the issue, but it’s up to you to utilize this new knowledge in a positive way.

Good luck! We’ll talk again this fall…

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

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Cell Phone Addiction – Ingredients of Behavioral Addiction: Cliffhangers

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So I’ve fallen a little behind in my reading (and my blogging) lately. Sorry about that…

But do I really need to write about cliffhangers? Seriously: who hasn’t experienced the addiction created by a good cliffhanger??? “Who shot JR?” introduced us all to the addictive power of the cliffhanger, and the last 30 years have simply allowed us to refine this power and discover new ways to capitalize on it’s ability to control people.

So here is what I am going to do instead: I’m going to jump ahead to Part 3, The Future of Behavioral Addiction (and Some Solutions). I will utilize that part of the text to wrap up the year on my blog, and I’ll try to provide some solutions for us all as we head into the summer months.

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Cell Phone Addiction – Ingredients of Behavioral Addiction: Escalation

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According to Google Books, there are more than thirty thousand books about ‘making life easier.’ … These books suggest that our lives are hard, and that we’d be happier and better off if we could learn to replace hardship with ease. But most of these books weren’t written for people enduring major hardships, and there is very little evidence that people with regular lives become happier when you replace challenges with ease. … As thirty thousand books tell us, we may be looking for an easier life on some level–but many of us prefer to break up a period of mild pleasantness with a dose of moderate hardship. … That’s why people spend precious chunks of time doing difficult crosswords and climbing dangerous mountains–because the hardship of the challenge is far more compelling than knowing you’re going to succeed” (Alter, pp. 167-169).

While this hardship of challenge that we crave may drive us to do great things, it may also be a destructive force in our lives. Let’s start with the positive and look at this through an educational lens.

Most educators are quite familiar with the work of Lev Vygotsky. His “Zone of Proximal Development” supports the idea that to some degree we’d prefer a little hardship over success. In fact, he concluded that students not only prefer a little challenge, but also learn better (and enjoy the process better) when they are pushed just beyond their capabilities. Great teachers know how to develop a rigorous class by making sure that learning is not too easy and not too hard, but “just right.” And as it turns out, “just right” is a zone that is slightly out of reach for students in an area that might be described as “hardship.”

Interesting…isn’t it? Well as it turns out, it is not only great teachers who understand and utilize this concept. Great app developers and great video game designers also understand this concept well. And they’ve become quite adept at utilizing this knowledge to addict us–especially those of us called Millennials (I happen to be a Gen-Xer by the way).

You see, Zone of Proximal Development and escalation used to create rigor and ensure learning is a good thing–it’s very positive for students and learners. However, when escalation is used against us with regard to video games, apps, and even with the simple design of our Smart Phones (which become increasingly more streamlined, reliable, and able to immediately meet our needs), it leads to behavioral addiction.

Although I’ve become much more aware of behavioral addiction in recent years, I wasn’t always so careful. In 2003 when Denver was hit hard by our April blizzard, my room-mate, and I got a 3-day break from teaching. We spent those three days creating a fantasy Madden league. We would take turns retreating to the game room and playing Madden football for long stretches of 5-8 hours. As one of us would stumble out of the game room, the other would rush in to continue managing the league. And that’s the point: most of our time was spent just managing the league, making trades, designing teams, and enjoying all the new, exciting, advanced (dare I say: “escalated”) features in the latest version of Madden. Only half of our time was actually spent playing football.

The sense of creating something that requires labor and effort and expertise is a major force behind addictive acts … It also highlights an insidious difference between substance addiction and behavioral addiction: where substance addictions are nakedly destructive, many behavioral addictions are quietly destructive acts wrapped in cloaks of creation” (Alter, p. 174).

Just something to keep in mind next time you find yourself re-designing your Bitmoji avatar for an hour…

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Bonus Article: Can cell phones cause cancer? Experts surprised by latest test results.

Cell Phone Addiction – Ingredients of Behavioral Addiction: Progress

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It’s been a while since I last opened Irresistible.  …my apologies for the extended break.

Thus far, Alter has shared two ingredients (surprising ingredients at that) for behavioral addiction: goals and feedback. In this next chapter, he adds another shocking ingredient for behavioral addiction: progress.

As if the first two weren’t hard enough to accept, this third ingredient is even more challenging to understand as an ingredient for addiction. After all, didn’t we just have parent-teacher conferences at the school to discuss how to promote and pursue progress for our students?

Well, let’s be clear: progress is a good thing.

But too much of a good thing or a good thing in the wrong proportions/quantities can be bad. Alter uses a host of examples to help make this point: Nintendo, auction games, penny auction sites, bumper bowling, and internet addiction. As always, he paints an interesting picture and makes it clear (albeit, anecdotally) that progress can be used to addict us.

Progress is a little bit like cholesterol, carbs, or calories. Our body needs calories to survive. But too many calories and calories in the wrong form can be utilized to addict us.

Likewise, progress is a good thing and necessary for our growth and development. But progress can become addictive.

Do you know who is especially good at using (mis-using) progress to addict us?: video game creators and Smart Phone app developers. Yes, that’s right: our cell phones are cleverly designed to become addictive. (You didn’t really think I’d miss an opportunity to remind you of how dangerous cell phones are, did you? 😉 )

Don’t throw away your SmartPhone (yet). Just be aware…

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Cell Phone Addiction – Ingredients of Behavioral Addiction: Feedback

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Last week, I was surprised to discover that goals can be an ingredient of behavioral addiction. This week, I was just as surprised to learn that feedback could be an ingredient of addiction–until I started reading.

In similar fashion to previous chapters, the author builds a case through a series of interesting stories that help to demonstrate the veracity of his claim. Below I’ve listed a few of the Alter’s example. As you review these examples, think about how Smart Phones and apps (perhaps technology in general) are designed to deliver feedback in a similar fashion.

  1. The child who pushes all of the buttons on the elevator. It would never happen without a simple form of feedback (the buttons light up). ELF – Elevator Scene
  2. Reddit’s “The Button” prank. If nothing happened when people pushed the button, then the word would have gotten out that it’s nothing, and the prank would have died. Instead, a little bit of meaningless feedback hooked millions of people and created yet another cyber-community built around…a button.
  3. Zeiler’s Pigeons. (You’ll have to look that one up on your own.)

Do you know what most of these examples remind me of? … The “like” feature in Facebook. … Text messaging. … My own addiction to email.

Seriously: I hate looking at my inbox and seeing the bold emails that are still unread. I simply MUST do something about those bold messages! There are times that I find myself just clicking on them so that the bold font will disappear–that is the feedback I have come to crave. It’s probably why I constantly feel the need to check email, stay caught up with email, and just get rid of email as soon as possible. It’s why during meetings when I check to see if I have any email, I don’t even check to see who sent it or what the topic is–I just look for bold font!

At first glance, it’s easy to think that this author is crazy. Who would possibly suggest that goals and feedback could be ingredients for behavioral addiction? But the more I evaluate my own habits, compulsions, and addictions, the more I see the genius in what he has to say.

Cheers!

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Cell Phone Addiction – Ingredients of Behavioral Addiction: Goals

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I just started Part 2 of Irresistible and the author is going to discuss 6 ingredients of behavioral addiction. The first ingredient is goals.

In all honesty, I would have never expected “goals” to be connected to behavioral addiction. Seriously: aren’t goals supposed to be a good thing? Aren’t goals what help keep us focused and motivated to be successful? Aren’t goals what help drive and produce Olympians?

But as I read the chapter, I was fascinated by the stories he shared and the ideas set forth. Let’s see, how could I sum it up in a nutshell???

I remember when my bother and sister and I got NES for Christmas one year (Nintendo Entertainment System). That was the greatest Christmas present ever! (…up until that time in my short life of course.) It must have been how Ralphy felt when he finally got his Red Rider BB Gun. Anyway, compared to today’s video games, Mario Brother’s was pretty simplistic. But at the time, it was quite a challenge for us. At first, the game was simple fun that we enjoyed each evening after dinner. We only had an hour to play, but we’d sit their together–all 3 of us–playing Super Mario Bothers and taking turns.

But as we improved our Mario gaming skills, we developed goals. …simple goals like advance to the next level, get more points, unlock additional secrets, and ultimately conquer the game. In time though, our simple goals became mild obsessions. We couldn’t wait to play Mario Brothers. In fact, I can remember lying awake in bed one night when the idea of the “warp zone” hit me. I could barely sleep just thinking about the opportunity to try out that idea.

And such is the potential trap of goals. We can become addicted to the dopamine hit that is produced by chasing goals and the constant leveling up. In the words of the author: “Streaks uncover the major flaw with goal pursuit: you spend far more time pursuing the goal than you do enjoying the fruits of your success. … These goals pile up, and they fuel addictive pursuits that bring failure, or perhaps worse, repeated success that spawns one new ambitious goal after another” (pg 117 & 120).

So beware: the very goals that can, in fact, produce a gold medal may also become an ingredient for behavioral addiction.

Cheers!

(Be sure to check out the bonus article at the bottom–even if you don’t read the whole thing, at least check out the graphs.)

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Alter, Adam. (2018). Irresistible The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. Penguin Group USA.

Bonus Article: The Scary Truth About What’s Hurting Our Kids

The Adolescent Brain and Learning cont…

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I’m beginning to miss the other book I’ve been reading (Irresistible–The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping us Hooked), so I promise to return to that text next week.

But for now, I wanted to wrap up some of the valuable applications and advice from last week’s chapter about learning. As you may recall, the teenage brain is more capable of learning than an adult brain (to put it succinctly). However, the teenage brain still has a great deal of developing to do with regard to “attention, self-discipline, task completion, and emotions” (Jensen, p. 80). Thus, the author/doctor offers the following suggestions to help our adolescents maximize their potential for learning:

  • Keep instructions and directions minimal–deliver them orally, write them down, and keep it to a few steps or less.
  • “Set limits–with everything” and be clear about expectations and boundaries.
  • Be patient.
  • Remind them repeatedly that they are responsible for their own behavior.

Obviously, this does not make everything okay. We will still deal with some inexplicable behaviors from time-to-time. But the author suggests that this will help, and the advice is based on extensive brain science. Still…

“‘My brain made me do it.’ Your teenage son might be tempted to say when he decides to drive off with Dad’s car and not tell anyone until he comes home after midnight. ‘Well, no,’ you have to say, ‘your brain is sometimes an explanation; it’s never an excuse'” (Jensen, p. 82).

Cheers!

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Jensen, F. E., & Nutt, A. E. (2016). The teenage brain: a neuroscientists survival guide to raising adolescents and young adults. New York: London.