© 2020 Patrick McAndrew

  • Pat McAndrew

The Adult Pacifier: Why We Can’t Stop Sucking

I just started reading a new book.  I always enjoy starting new books.  It’s as if you’re starting a new journey and you will become a different person by the time you reach the end!


Well…enough of that cheesiness.  The book is titled, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter.  I decided to look up this Alter guy and figure out his story.


I stumbled upon a great video of him featured on Big Think (which seems to have a lot of great content).  You can watch it below:

In the video, Alter talks about behavioral addiction, which he defines as “compulsive behavior you enjoy doing in the short term that harms your well-being in the long-term.”  We are constantly looking for rewards from our devices, both positive and negative, and the unpredictability of whether or not we get a “hit” is appealing.  Our devices are difficult to resist, and these devices are very effective ways of delivering addictive content because we can take this content with us wherever we go.   We spend an average of 3 hours a day checking our smartphones, always in search of new information.  Most often, we will check our phones when we are bored, feeling lonely, not sure what to do with ourselves, or when we don’t feel particularly efficacious.  Alter then terms that our devices are an “adult pacifier” that we must use when experiencing these feelings.


Why is this behavioral addiction so easy to pass us by?  Many people will see that this blog post, for example, was indeed posted, but many will not read it.  Why doesn’t it cause the fix or lure people in to click on it?  I’m led to believe that most people don’t have much of an opinion either way on this topic, perhaps because of the lack of short-term benefit, the “hit”.  We don’t think about the long-term effects that technology can have on our minds, bodies, and relationships.  In the moment, we just glance at Facebook really quick to see if anyone liked our post.  All the while, what was my friend talking about again?  In the moment, we just want to post a picture on Instagram.  All the while, what was my brother saying to me?  In the moment, we just want to reply to a text message and before you know it we end up in the hospital with broken bones after a car crash.


What may seem like very little things add up to much bigger things.  Up to 3 hours a day!  Do the math: that’s 21 hours a week, 84 hours a month, 1,092 hours in a year.  That’s a lot of time! Like my man Kevin Malone once said: “Many small time, make big time.”


It’s super easy to lose track of our time because it’s parsed out in little segments of a couple minutes that add up quickly.  I think the most detrimental behavior is when we retreat to our phones when we’re bored.  This is toxic because our precious time can be sucked away without us even realizing it.  Our smartphones are much like pacifiers, used to fill voids in our time.  But, for several reasons, we can’t stop sucking at the pacifier, hoping to get something delicious.  I won’t go any further with that analogy.


So, how do we prevent this time-sucking?  The biggest action we can take is simply being mindful.  There is an app called “Moment” which tracks the amount of time you spend on your phone.  If we are mindful of the ways in which we use our devices, we will be able to use them in more effective and productive ways.  Otherwise, we will just fall down the rabbit-hole, endlessly consuming information that, for the most part, won’t really have a huge impact on our lives.


Let me know your thoughts!  Do you have any ideas in which we can make better use of our time?  How much smartphone use is too much smartphone use?  Comment below!


-Pat