The Gadget Addict’s Plight

A recent study conducted by European technology firm TDK identified a blossoming new societal ailment: gadget addiction.

Addictions to other things like the internet and video games are well known. But gadget addiction is specifically about owning and buying the latest and greatest electronic doo-dads and gizmos. Okay, before you giggle too hard, consider the following statistics.

TDK reports that a majority of consumers buy electronic goods in an emotional state of mind and we typically purchase goods that we just don’t need. Often we buy stuff just to show it off to our friends, for example.

Furthermore, we’re highly likely to forgo other purchases, from cosmetics to vacations, just to stay on the cutting edge of electronic gadgetry.

Surprisingly, it’s not a male-dominated addiction. It’s just as common among women.

There are differences in the reasons for purchases between genders, however.

Women are practical and fashionable, influenced by the functional and aesthetic aspects of devices. Men tend to buy on buzz and impulse alone, with raw adrenaline often driving their purchasing decisions. As a result, men are almost consistently disappointed with their new gadgets. Men are chronically dissatisfied, as well, feeling they can’t get the gadget they really want.

Gadget addiction, like other addictions, is a form of escapism. In many ways, it’s akin to fashion in that the “cool” factor lifetime of electronic stuff is very brief.

There’s always a smaller and faster gadget coming out, and this drives the addiction: once a gadget loses its appeal and its next generation arrives, the craving begins anew.

The TDK study details how gadget addicts will avoid friends and family in the early days of ownership so they can spend more time with their new devices. Some addicts even feign illness and skip work, an act which represents millions of dollars in lost productivity to companies.

I have to admit, I suffer from gadget addiction. And I know others do, too.

Take my friend, Jim. (I’ve changed his name out of respect for the addicts’ code of ethics.)

Last week I was talking to Jim and he described the difficulty he had focusing on work.

He’d constantly have multiple web browser windows open, filled with pages about cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players and laptops.

Much of this gear he knew he’d never own or use. But he was driven to maintain his knowledge about the latest and greatest electronic kit. He detailed his endless hours of research that identified the perfect cell phone he knew he’d never own.

Jim and I aren’t alone. The TDK study estimates there are millions of gadgets addicts, most oblivious to their plight.

Blogs maintained by self-described addicts riddle the web. I found a post on mathcaddy.com that was humorous but pretty accurate in regards to the cyclical nature of gadget addiction.

The site describes the first part of an addictive cycle as the “initial awareness” of the device. Then comes the “purchase anticipation” and then the major high, the purchase itself. Immediately following that are deployment, enjoyment, hacking, dissatisfaction and “continuous whining”. The cycle begins anew when the addict finds a better device and pursues it.

The gadget addict’s web site of choice is certainly Engadget. It’s a cornucopia of gadget news, reviews, and rumours that takes serious time to keep up with. For addicts like me, it’s a dangerous, time-wasting start to a day.

I recently came across a list of the 100 best gadgets of all time on the Mobile Magazine’s web site. Reading through the list, I realize I’ve been a gadget addict for a lot longer than I thought. My childhood was defined by Mattel’s handheld football game (#65), the Etch-a-Sketch (# 50) and the Atari 2600 game system (#9). I won’t even get into how much I freaked when Apple’s iPod (#12) debuted in 2001.

There’s been little acknowledgement of gadget addiction in either the media or in medical fields. That’s likely because gadget addiction has traditionally lived in the shadows of other major addictions related to the actual use of the device.

However, gadgets are ever more mainstream. Popular devices like the constantly morphing iPod, Sony’s PSP and the slew of new major-megapixel digital cameras on the market will drive more innocent consumers over the edge and gadget addiction will be recognized for what it is.

One day soon you’ll turn on the tv to find Dr. Phil comforting some poor sod who’s lost his wife and job because of his endless quest for the perfect MP3-player-digital-camera-satellite-phone-handheld-computer-with-Bluetooth-and-WiFi.

Then you’ll know gadget addiction has gone mainstream.

Copyright 2005 Andrew Robulack.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, July 8, 2005.