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Book Review: Your Happiness was Hacked

At a time when students are addicted to technology, this timely book uncovers the dark side of technology and suggests how to use it mindfully.
BY BrainGain Magazine Staff Writer |   26-07-2018

Your Happiness was Hacked: Why Tech is Winning the Battle to Control Your Brain — And How to Fight Back, by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever, published by Penguin Random House.

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Tech entrepreneur and academic Vivek Wadhwa is the co-author of Your Happiness Was Hacked.

For all the deserved attention drugs and binge drinking get, technology overuse remains a persistent problem on college campuses, driving some to sleep-deprivation, distraction and failing grades, while isolating others. A new book, “Your Happiness was Hacked” by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever is a rather timely work on the problems of tech addiction and how it is controlling our lives and well-being.

"Hordes of us are now members of a zombie army that walks while looking down at our phones," warned tech blogger Jamie Bartlett in his book, “The People Vs Tech.” Wadhwa, a professor at Carnegie Mellon's College of Engineering and Salkever, a technology leader and author, share similar concerns.

“Obsessive use of social media enables constant unhealthy comparisons with the seemingly perfect lives of those we see in our social media feeds even when we consciously know that their lives are less than perfect,” write the authors.

Tech companies have their hooks in you

Wadhwa and Salkever describe the applied neuroscience techniques developers are using to make their products so insidiously habit-forming and, drawing on the latest research, detail the negative impact of technology in four key areas: love, work, play, and life.

There are dozens of powerful examples. Online dating apps like Tinder encourage users to evaluate people like products, leading to horribly superficial relationships.

The book highlights how social media platforms use likes, hearts, and retweets, to lure you into using their apps more often. Of course, the more the love, the greater the social approval, and the bigger the possibility of you getting hooked!

Not just WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, the authors also talk about Netflix which has PhD data scientists hard at work, figuring out just how to get you to binge watch movies and serials. Tech companies have all the weapons sophisticated tracking bots, GPS coordinates, and algorithms that determine the optimal ways to distract us and ensure our eyes stay glued to the screen.

Of course, we forget that the light from the devices so many of us look at right before we go to sleep suppresses the production of melatonin, a hormone vital for sleep and healthy organ functioning.

“The very engineers who built the devices that hold us rapt now express misgivings about what they have wrought (sending their own children to technology-free schools and restricting screen time at home) and the creator of the Facebook Like button now has his personal assistant use parental controls to prevent him from downloading apps to his phone,” write the authors.

Wadhwa and Salkever share their own stories about how obsessive reliance on technology contributed to their misery. Fortunately, they lay out tested strategies to take back control by understanding the addictive mechanisms at the root of technology overload.

Techniques to fight back

The second half of the book focuses on how to make tech healthier. The authors provide a framework for analyzing one’s interactions with technology, and then show how technology can be managed through “creative environmental and behavioral design.”

Your Happiness was Hacked

People who find it difficult to bail out/unplug/disconnect even for a few hours (except during sleep) should answer these six questions: Does it make you happier or sadder? Do you need to use it as part of your life or work? Does it warp your sense of time and place in unhealthy ways? Does it change your behavior? Is your use of it hurting those around you? If you stopped using it, would you really miss it?

Clearly, there’s a need to plan your personal time and space carefully, which includes having switch-off times, avoiding the checking cycle and never hitting refresh.

If you are regularly awake at 2 am thanks to your smart phone, iPad or laptop, staring into the distance in a catatonic state with bloodshot eyes, it’s time to accept that you have a problem. Know the signs: When you seem absolutely not able to stop, you are losing control.

The authors talk about how they gradually made changes to their own lives. One of them stopped taking his phone into the bedroom. Even just going swimming, going to a football match, or even going for a walk can have a positive effect. The authors talk about how some families have tech-free times so that they can bond over a meal or conversation.

Seek help if you need it

The Collegiate Recovery Center at the University of Colorado-Boulder has long tackled substance abuse, but now it's going the extra mile to address technology addiction. The recovery center at the college holds support meetings for students who believe they’re using technology as a crutch. It also has special dorm rooms for students who are battling screen addiction.

Recovery from technology addiction often involves an initial period during which a person completely abstains from using devices. With the help of therapy, designed to understand why this overuse is taking place and to increase comfort with face-to-face interactions, technology is gradually re-introduced into the person’s life.

Ultimately, it’s important to have boundaries and learn to self-police your video game or computer use.

“We should use these products, these miracles of silicon and software, only on our own terms,” emphasize the authors.



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