Recommended reads #6

I climbed my first Swiss tree climbing completion in 1999, my first European comp was the same year in Valencia.

Entering the competition scene was a total revelation for me, opening my eyes to the fact that there was a much larger world beyond the company I was working in at the time, and so began a voyage of discovery, learning about tools and techniques and meeting like-minded people.

Gaining access to information in the late nineties, turn of the millennia required real effort, it meant you had to physically travel to meetings, meant you had to try to score one of the early catalogues of Christian Nellen, Tobe Sherrill, Svensk Träd Vård or High Tree Tech, which were far from the glossy, stream-lined publications we know today, much rougher round the edges with a distinctly DIY-feel to it.

The stream of information was tenuous and thin, the comps or catalogues representing two of very few of access. Information was a precious, rare commodity. Companies would oftentimes jealously hide techniques they were using as they represented a edge over competitors. The comps were an essential conduit of exchange and information between the dispersed groups of the arb tribe.

Fast forwards fifteen years and the world has changed beyond recognition: Information has become an ubiquitous commodity we almost take for granted, with access but a click away. I write this free of judgement, yet it is such a profound change with such far-reaching repercussions that it bears pointing out and is of concerne not just for our small world of tree care but also society as a whole.

Adam Alter’s Irresistible – Why We Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching discusses the addictive potential of exactly the tech that makes this immersive constant exchange of information possible. Did you know that Steve Job’s children were not allowed to use iPads? Or that Bill Gates’ kids had several limited access to technological gadgets under the age of fourteen? This makes sense once you realise how all of these devices are designed from the ground up to press buttons, to satisfy needs such as recognition or a sense of importance – and are therefore potentially highly addictive. Who should know this better but the architects of these technologies? Alter starts the book with a general reflection upon addictions, societies’ perceptions of addictive substances and behaviours and their causes, to then focus in on the tech we surround ourselves with, whether this be through our iPhone, World of Warcraft, Netflix or Facebook.

I struggle with reading factual books during busy periods, tending to drop off after a page or two, but I romped through this one: it is both alarming and fascinating, as Alter’s style is very engaging, using a wide range examples to illustrate this complex topic. Experts assume that over half to the population shows signs of behavioural addiction when it comes to the use of tech. The strong point of the book however is that Alter does not get bogged down in doom and gloom, he discusses possible strategies to counter some of the more worrying consequences. His position is far from a Luddite one, not advocating a radical (and probably unrealistic) turning back of the clock, but rather striving for a balanced, measured and differentiated use. This discussion is both timely and important, and should be of concern to all of us.

Irresistible certainly made me take a careful, hard look at how I use social media, the internet and other tech on a daily basis. Come the end of the book (stand by, spoiler alert!), you cannot help but agree with Alter when he writes:

Our addictive experiences is largely cultural, and if our culture makes space for work-free, game-free, scree-free downtime, we and our children will find it easier to resist the lure of behavioural addiction. In its place we’ll communicate with one another directly, rather than through devices, and the glow of these social bonds will leave us richer and happier than the glow of screens ever could.

Comes highly recommended.