The idea that products from cakes to internet sites are increasingly designed to be as addictive as possible is both chilling and entirely unsurprising. After all, there seems to be no limit to how low multinationals will stoop to mould us into ideal consumers, cut off from anything (social bonds, knowledge of the conditions in which these items are produced, a capacity both to fully inhabit the present moment and to see beyond it) which might hinder an unbridled gobbling of so-called ‘goods and services’. Any effort to make the inhabitants of economically rich countries more aware of this is to be applauded, even if, as in this case, the attempt borders on the slapdash.
Thompson has some interesting points to make. His principal concern seems to be to highlight how many more people than we might imagine – in fact, almost anyone who
regularly uses the internet – are ensnared in powerful patterns of addiction which can come to govern our daily lives. He convincingly argues, for example, that it is no coincidence that iphone users are forced into OCD-type behaviour in order to keep their mobiles charged and updated with the latest software, nor that sugary cupcakes trigger similar biochemical responses to heroin.
Unfortunately, Thompson’s writing style is at times irritatingly repetitive, as is his occasional tendency to make assertions rather than fully develop arguments backed up with evidence. To give one example, the statement that through our addictions to technology we are increasingly replacing people with things is repeatedly made, but not developed. This is a pity.
Nevertheless, anyone reading this book may find themselves more aware – and wary - of the ways in which we risk losing ourselves in a torrent of short-term desires, each demanding its own fix as soon as possible, or sooner. And this awareness might just result in our having more of a chance to pause before we reach for just one more piece of chocolate, or look at just one more website before we return to the non-virtual world. So it’s interesting how the insubstantial, slightly tantalising writing style of this book had me drawn hurriedly from one chapter to the next, barely leaving time for the arguments to be digested. After alll, publishers want us to consume, too.’
The Fix: How Addiction is Invading Our Lives and Taking Over Your World, Damian Thompson (Collins, 2012, £18.99 hardback)