Why are we so obsessed with new technology?

04 April 2017

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Question

Why are we so obsessed with new technology, and having to have the next big thing?

Answer

Philipe Bujold from the University of Cambridge unpicked Vernon's question...

Philipe - I think that question applies to a lot more than new technology because it’s always what is the next big thing? What’s the new thing I can get? And that has, I would say, two main causes:

The first one is dopamine, which is a very in-fashion word at the moment. Dopamine seems, in the brain, to be coding things that would be considered a “surprise.” So be it a really good reward, a really bad reward, or something novel to you and, usually, you will seek what initiates that dopamine signal. So when dopamine is released, you just want more of that so you will keep seeking that. But at one point it stops being novel; it becomes your reference, if you want. So dopamine stops firing that extra little boost and so you want something more.

There’s also another reason to this; we are social animals and, unfortunately, we want to be like all the others. So when there’s iphones everywhere, well everybody wants iphones; when everybody wants androids, everybody wants androids. So you always want novelty but you also want what others have because you want to fit in. We are a social animal.

Chris - People who do buck the trend - what’s going on with them then? Are they doing that because that’s just their way of getting novelty because they're being different?

Philipe - That really depends. I guess the easy answer to that is that, obviously, everybody has genetic and environmental factors that will affect how they think. Some people will go against the trend, some people will go with it. Evolutionarily it makes sense that some people will go against the trend hoping maybe to establish a new trend, and being the first people there. There’s some reasons why people would do it but, on average, we do like to follow those trends.

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