I must confess to a slight addiction…

By Andrew Keen on May 24th, 2012

I’m afraid that I have to confess to a slight addiction to the work of the much heralded Telegraph blogger, Damian Thompson. As a Guardian reading North Londoner, this addiction to the Catholic iconoclast is, of course, slightly embarrassing.

But there’s always been something seductive about Thompson’s work – as if he’s in the business of tempting recalcitrant leftists like myself to migrate to the South London suburbs and become loyal Telegraph readers.

But with Thompon’s marvellous new book, I can feel better about my addiction to his work. In The Fix: How Addiction is Invading our Lives and Taking Over Your World, Thompson argues that late industrial capitalism is creating products – from cupcakes to alcohol to painkillers to iPhones to video games – which are so seductive as to be addictive to millions of their users.

I feel better about Thompson’s work because his critique of late industrial capitalism isn’t much different from the cultural criticism offered by Frankfurt school theorists like Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse.

The contemporary world, Thompson tells us, has become a gigantic meth lab for addicts.

Most of us are now binge drinkers or compulsive gamers or cupcake eaters or cocaine addicts. And Thompson – who himself was an alcoholic while he was at college – does a marvellous job introducing us to the scientific and cultural foundations of today’s addictive products and personalities.

While cupcakes (or cocaine) aren’t exactly my cup of tea, I am familiar with the addictive quality of digital technology. Thompson’s work will make controversial and inspiring reading. He recognises, for example, that the iPhone is more than a cellphone – it is a creation of such seductive physical and metaphysical qualities that we’ve not only fallen in love with it, but are also incapable of putting it down.

The Web could have been invented by an addictive Catholic moralist like Thompson. But the problem, of course, is that the Internet – as a honey trap for addicts – isn’t simply a Damian Thompson invention.

Indeed, as Robert Scoble, one of Silicon Valley’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders for new technology, recently told me, today’s social media world is indeed creating a generation of addicts incapable of putting away their smartphones or pausing their seemingly endless online games.

Thompson is right to see addiction as the thing driving our current relationship with technology. And he’s right to argue that whatever it means to be human means not be addicted to foreign substances, devices or networks.

Whether or not you are an addict, The Fix is a compulsive book. I couldn’t put it down. You won’t be able to either.

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