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Last Updated: Friday, 6 July 2007, 11:36 GMT 12:36 UK
Pushing your buttons
An Apple phone

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News

Sleek, shiny and singularly desirable. Gadgets are no longer just about functionality, they're a statement about you; hi-tech jewellery that beckons you to touch, try, buy and stake your place in the Stuff Lust society.

Like pilgrims who have come to see something sacred, you can see them in shops across the country, looking longingly at something they want to possess.

These are the gadget gazers, the tech touchers, who hang around the sections in department stores where they stack up the electrical stuff - sleek computers, must-have music players and outsize televisions that are the home entertainment version of a smoked-glass Hummer.

Iphone
It's only a phone... a phone... a phone... a phone
Are these people shoppers or are they worshippers?

They can spend hours here, looking at products they have no intention of buying, stroking the keyboards of cute laptops which they can't afford.

The most recent explosion of stuff lust has been the launch of the iPhone from that arch. It's not even on sale in this country, there hasn't been advertising here, but there has been a relentless level of interest.

Why is there such a hunger for a shiny new phone, a new type of computer game or a show-off television?

Marketing expert at the Henley Management College, David James, gets straight to the point.

"It's all about the Scalextric set your mother didn't buy you when you were a child. Now you can buy your own."

The toy shop might have been a disappointment all those years ago, but now you've got your own credit card and you're at the top of your own gift list. And if you really, really want it, you can have it.

And the buzz of marketing, through so many different channels, helps to create these consumer luxuries that we think we can't live without.

It's about desire, these aren't things we need at all - but we all fall for it
Tom Wiggins, Stuff magazine
Dr James calls this movie-style build up the "science of Harry Potter", where people don't want to miss out on what they think other people are seeing.

"It doesn't matter whether it's irrational, it works."

Because it's not as if we're short of electrical toys already.

"It's about desire, these aren't things we need at all - but we all fall for it," says Tom Wiggins of gadget magazine, Stuff.

The iPhone has immediately gained that "iconic status" that means that people want to own it for its own sake, says Mr Wiggins. "It's like the iPod, it's about fashion, not just the function."

And he says that the gadget heads are "going mental" in their long hungry wait for a European version of the phone.

Men's fashion

But is this passion for gadgets behind glass just a bloke thing? Is it about men who'd rather look at the user's manual than talk to a human being?

Psychologist Joan Harvey, from Newcastle University, has an interesting commentary on this.

Sweetshop
Like a child in a sweetshop... with their performance bonus to spend
For centuries, women have bought luxury fashion items to improve their own self-image, buying beautiful objects for their own sake. Now men might be doing something similar with "elegant" technology, she suggests. Are mobile phones really jewellery for men?

"Designers of technology talk about elegance, but it's really another way of saying beauty," says Dr Harvey. The irresistible allure of brushed chrome might not be as macho as it appears.

It's not everyone who suffers from this stuff lust. Dr Harvey says there are distinct personality types who are more likely to be excited by the latest digital arrivals.

The shoppers in the front of the queue are the type of people who like to lead opinion and who bolster their status by being ahead of the pack, she says. They're also more open to change.

Stuff lusters would also need to have a wallet that was open, because marketing expert Dr James says that the brand pushers are getting ever more effective at creating these objects of desire. Futuristic music players, retro radios, computer games and endlessly upgraded mobiles.

Brief lift

"You don't so much see some people as read them, they've got so many brands."

But you can take things too far.

Computer
Begging to be tried out...
Shopping can be a mood-altering experience, says Dr Robert Lefever, founder of the Promis addiction recovery centre in Kent. For most people a new gadget is going to be a passing sensation, like doing exercise, that gives you a temporary lift.

"Lots of people will have a little retail therapy, and why not if it perks you up a bit?" says Dr Lefever.

But there are people who become compulsive shoppers, who are addicted to the sensation of buying. They don't even want to have the stuff, they just like the process of buying.

"You get people trying to take back things that they've just bought, because they didn't really want what they've bought, they just wanted to shop, they wanted the process of buying," says Dr Lefever.

"They can end up possessing vast numbers of things, but it's never enough."

It isn't even as though the shopping hit makes them happy, he says - because it won't resolve an "inner emptiness".

Shopping addicts often also have eating disorders and in turn, these might be linked to depression. And the mood-altering kick of the purchase isn't about making them happy, it's just a fleeting sense of feeling different, he says. Moments later, with purchases they don't need or want, they'll feel even worse.

But such warnings will not deter the true gadget enthusiast, waiting impatiently to unwrap and explore the latest piece of desirable electronics. For them, it's not the winning that counts, but the taking apart.


A selection of your comments appears below.

I love my gadgets including my iPod, Motorola K1 Phone, Intel-Apple and even as going as far as having a 2000+ RGK Chrome Titanium Wheelchair! (is this a Gadget as i could of got one for nothing of the NHS?) But it does go deeper in that its about control, greed and power too. Why own a Porshe when you can have a Robin Reliant or why have a massive morgage when you can have a council flat? I think if you are in control of your spending and are enjoying it too the full then its all good fun, otherwise and unfotunitly it is an addiction like alcoholism or heroin, that needs to be addressed.
Angus Brown, Aberdeen

I love my gadgets and I get my hands on the ones I want pretty fast. However all my gadgets work for me as opposed to them being status symbols or fashion items! All of them look sleek and well designed nowadays and yes you get a smug feeling when using them. Remember though, the best gadgets out there are 1. your brain 2. the real world!
Gabriel Asseily,, London, UK

Gadget lust - yep i hold my hand up, i am a self confessed sufferer! Surely its my choice if i want to buy these things with my hard earned money thou, roll on the launch date for the iphone!!
Claire, Hull, UK

Generally I try to avoid being an early adopter of gadgets, cos v2 of pretty much anything tends to be a) cheaper and b) better than v1. But for the iPhone I'm prepared to make an exception. Oh, yes. Full on gadget lust this time. I WANT ONE!
Andy Saltiel, Gamlingay, UK

I bought a Nokia E61 recently, to replace my Psion series 5. I genuinely use the applications (WP, spreadsheets calendar etc) and only bought the E61 as it had software developed by Symbian so I thought it would be just fine - a PDA with a 'phone, not bad really. Sadly, actually using the apps seems secondary to wandering around shouting loudly into the 'phone about your latest multi-million pound deal (like ANYONE cares?) and frantically checking and sending emails every 5 minutes. In short, the spreadsheet is absolute rubbish. Appearance really is everything these days, and functionality is irrelevant.
Alas poor Psion, London

I recognise this in myself. I am obsessed about buying power tools and wood working machinery. Have it delivered to work and have to sneak it inside when my wife's back is turned. I put it down to fighting my lack of DIY genes , thanks Dad , and having a huge shed.
Nick Johnson, Torquay

Yet another article attempting to play on this idea of 'unnecessary gadget lust.' Will people learn that the vast majority of people who actually buy things like mobile phones and iPods actually use them and find good use in their respective functions? I have an iPod and a nice phone- but i'm not an obsessive hoarder like the article purports. Yes, there is consumer hype surrounding shiny new products, but most people see through that in the same way that they see through sensationalist articles such as this.
Tom, Southampton

Yeah, I call it 'gadgeteering'.
Heckie Cormack, Portree, Isle of Skye

It's pathetic - and I speak as a technology journalist who reviews this kind of kit for big magazines. When will people realise that phones and MP3 players are not the secret to lasting happiness - there is always someone with something newer, flashier and cooler. Flash new tech is good to have but stuff lust is addictive, dysfunctional and decadent.
Bonze, UK

From the picture 'Begging to be tried out' you have highlighted another phenomenon that of 'RETRO-GADGET' lust as the picture shows a rather out of date Apple Mac computer. There are so many magazines offering the chance to buy a gadget so that you can play 'SPACE INVADERS' like you used to do.
Leslie Jarrett, Slough Berkshire

God, this article makes me want to cry. How sad. I've had three computers in 20 years (the most recent purchased in 1998) and two mobile phones in five years. They get replaced when they break and not before. I'll spend my hard-earned money on travel and my education, not status symbols, thanks.
Dorothy Rothschild, Fife, Scotland

I'm afraid I don't really see the value of this article. It's not telling us anything we didn't already know; People like the latest phones and gadgets? Getaway! That we are buying articles for their style, as well as functionality? I really don't think that's anything new. That shopaholics suffer from other addictions and disorders, such as depression? It doesn't take a PhD in psychology to work that one out. This seems like a 'Friday afternoon' article to me. Surely, there must be more interesting things to write about.
Rob Holman, Chislehurst, Kent, England

The growth of easy credit has unfortunately made it easier to become a shopping addict. What is interesting is that this addiction can be just as damaging as drug, alcohol or gambling but there are so few places to get help for it. A few interest rate rises is unlikely to prevent these addicts from carrying out their shopping urges. Tightening access to credit would help but let's face it i can't see a government doing that.
ben dolley, brighton

Re. the iPhone, quote: "there hasn't been advertising here" - this has to be easily the tenth iPhone related article I have seen here on bbc.co.uk. No other product names are mentioned in most of these (except Apple's other hype-fest, the iPod), why are Apple getting all the free publicity? There really is no need for them to advertise, you guys are ensuring that the iPhone is rarely out of the news, despite it offering similar functionality to many existing smartphones (touch screens and mp3 players integrated into mobile phones REALLY aren't news!). I know the Apple Mac was/is the darling of the media industry, but please stop using licence-fee money to place Apple products in the public eye. Disgraceful!
I Worlock, Bristol UK

As one famous gadgets website tagline goes..... Stuff you don't need, but you really, really want.
Ricky, London

Yes, it's an addiction, but it's an addiction that has been cultivated in 'image' magazines and so on. Both sexes have a list if 'must have' items that they believe will make them complete and give them the sense of satisfaction and achievement that they can't get in everyday life. Unfortunately, the marketing people of this world are becoming more savvy to the brands and how to create obsessive desire. It does very much seem as though we are buying the names of the product rather than the product itself now. Quality is a thing of the past, cool is everything.
Heather, Wolverhampton





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