Gadgets have a hold on us. They’re so popular that people will line up in front of stores in the middle of the night to be the first to get them. Okay, mostly Apple Stores. At any given time, the Technorati top five most popular technology blogs has at least two sites entirely dedicated to gadgets alone.
We want to the first to have them, to show them off to our peers. We form very real relationships with technologies to the point where people shed tears when a dropped phone reveals a cracked screen. We love our gadgets. At least until the next new thing comes along. Then we desire and love that new thing even more.
Through the years I have been able to convince myself that I really needed that new phone, that smaller tablet and that faster computer. I can justify it to myself that they all make my life easier, more convenient, how they will eventually save me time and money.
A quick look around my home shows a collection of gadgets that I justified in different ways.
The iPod Nano? I needed the smallest device possible for running. An iPad mini sits next to my iPad 1, I needed the mini because the iPad although useful, was a bit slow and heavy.
A Withings Scale was required because I needed to gather the statistics about my weight, otherwise what’s the point if I can’t collect the data for comparison?
The iPhone. Of course I needed it, no need to make excuses there. A Watson, well that’s important, if I find out how much energy we are using, then we can start saving.
I have an Apple TV so I can stop buying DVDs and throw out the ones I have. There’s a Kindle, because it’s so much easier to read in the sun and who wants to travel with more than one physical book?
There is clearly a good reason for owning all of them, or so I tell myself when I make each purchase.
It’s not a coincidence that all of these gizmos are not only useful tools: they look good too. Sometimes they’re just damn sexy. The appeal of shiny objects is a powerful seduction.
But underneath the bonnet of each delightfully designed item, it’s the technology that amazes me. That promise of progression thrills me.
Every new gadget makes me think of science fiction movies that revealed unknown treasures of the future. Through science fiction we saw flying cars and watches that are also phones. Now technological innovation has given us Google cars and the iPhone. We are almost living the reality of those movies.
Although I hate admit it: once I have that new gadget I love to show it off. I like to be associated with progression, it fits my lifestyle and I know that others will be thrilled by it too.
But not everyone is so easily convinced. When I tried to tell my father that he needed a tablet computer, he listened politely and decided at the end of the conversation that he doesn’t need one and is perfectly happy without another machine in his life.
He has a different set of associations. A new gadget to him is not about new possibilities or productivity, it’s an annoyance, just another machine to master and manage.
So what is it that makes gadgets so desirable to some people, and so boring to others? Why do some people line up for new gadgets in front of stores all night and why do we feel such a rush when we peel off the protective plastic from a new phone?
Let’s ask the experts.
Kevin Kelly, author of Out of Control, Ten Rules for the New Economy and What Technology Wants and founding executive editor of Wired Magazine.
“Each new gadget is a possibility made real, so each new gadget expands who we can be. Thankfully we don’t all want to be the same person, so not everyone will take it up. But some possibilities are so attractive (be connected!) that everyone takes it up.”
Charles Leadbeater, independent writer, advisor and speaker. Author of We-Think: mass creativity not mass production, The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur and The Pro Am Revolution.
“I am very attached to a few gadgets, mainly made by Apple, which are very pleasing. But I do not love them, not like I love my Olivetti Valentine portable typewriter from 1970 nor my handmade Japanese fountain pen. What is the difference? The Japanese fountain pen comes from somewhere; it was made by someone. It belongs to me rather than being part of a world I share with other people. My pen is beautiful but dumb, simple and faithful. My iPhone is cleverer but tricky because it’s also a tracking device and it’s really part of a larger commercial system, run by Apple, which the phone beckons me to become a part of. My Olivetti typewriter isn’t part of anyone’s system, it just belongs to me and does a job for me. My typewriter has a beautiful red cover to protect it. My iPad has a cover, I bought for it, to lend it a semblance of character, to disguise the fact that it’s characterless. I cannot really love my Apple gadgets because the relationship they want to get into with me is too complex and potentially dangerous for it to be love.”
Tom Dickson, CEO Blendtec, well known for the Will it Blend Series
“I’ve always been a gadget buff, so I get why people like to have the latest and greatest. There’s a certain connection to trend or revolution. When you open the box, you know you’re a part of the next big thing. But for me, whatever gadget I get, I have to watch it blend!”
Charles Chi, founder of Lytro
“Gadgets are the most accessible, concrete form of change and evolution — for us gadget consumers, each new product represents one step closer to the future. Everyone wants to be part of the next big thing. For many this passion has no end, and therefore consumers are willing to wait in line for hours on end to be the first of their friends to get their hands on the latest gadget. For those who love the status quo, gadgets often hold no appeal, but for people who love to ride the wave of change, the latest gadget can make them smarter, fitter, healthier, more efficient, more stylish, more informed, more socially aware, more creative. Gadgets are a way for each individual to own a real piece of innovation and make their mark in history—so that years from now they can say, “I remember when…”