Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Next New Thing

Did you get the iPhone 5? If you did, you're certainly not alone: they've sold millions already, and many customers have to wait 3-4 more weeks for the phones they've ordered. In fact, the rumor was that Apple's stock of preorder phones available on the launch date sold out within 1 hour (even though the hour was 3am Eastern time)! And, as with every new device Apple produces, crowds camped out over night - sometimes for multiple nights - waiting in line to get their hands on the new product.

This craze sparks my curiosity...not about what makes the most recent new thing so much better technologically, but about the social psychology that makes people feel so much urgency to lay their hands on it. Why do people who already have fancy smartphones that work quite well wake up at 3am - or camp out for multiple nights - to get a better one?

Four explanations come to mind:

1) Boredom - Having relatively short attention spans, and being used to instant gratification (thanks, in part, to technology), we may become bored with our current gadgets even before the new one comes out (and before our 2 year contract ends!)

2) Jealousy - When someone else has better or fancier things, it detracts from our opinion of whatever we have. Something we may have liked suddenly loses its value to us, and we want to upgrade.

3) Competition - We may feel like we will be at a competitive disadvantage if we don't have the most advanced technology. We might get anxious and upgrade just to be on the safe side.

4) Insecurity: Those of us who feel like we are already at a disadvantage in life may try to compensate for it, or "prove" our value and place in the world, by acquiring the latest status symbols.

What do you think? What makes a new phone worth losing sleep and braving the elements to get?

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