Why do we like gadgets so darn much?

Admit it. You like techie things. You like gadgets. Come on. You like to have the latest and greatest. You know you do. Have you ever thought about why?

The first gadgets

For a long time I believed that the term “gadget” had to do with miniature versions of the Statue of Liberty sold when the statue was new, and made by a company called Gaget, Gauthier, and Company. I believe I’ve seen images of these toys but I can’t find anything on the internet about them so I may be imagining it. At any rate, if that’s true it only served to popularize a term that already existed. There are several documented instances of “gadget” being used to mean a necessary nautical device, the same way we might use the term “hoozywhatzit” or “thingamabob”

During the 20th century, “gadget” came to mean something new, shiny and small that you could keep with you and potentially show off. This didn’t necessarily mean something electronic at first, but as personal electronic devices started to become popular, “gadget” started to take on its familiar meaning today of something techie that you like to handle.

But why?

There’s a surprisingly complex and rich set of reasons around gadget collecting and culture. Perhaps the most important thing that separates gadgets from other collectibles is that you actually play with it. In addition to bringing back positive associations of childhood, there’s a lot of science to suggest that fidgety motions can help people deal with anxiety. There’s an equal amount of information about how people deal with boredom. Oddly, even though our lives get busier every year, we never quite stop being bored. It’s almost like it’s hard wired inside us.

…the most toys wins

Clearly a lot of gadget culture is built around showing off your wealth or power. This is a basic human instinct. It’s tied to mating and showing your fitness as a mate. It’s no surprise that the desire to show off is so critical to our sense of self. After all, you see this sort of behavior all over the animal kingdom. It’s probably been around for billions of years. And now that having something shiny and attention-grabbing is easier than ever, we’re all tempted to do it.

And it is simply so easy now. Yes, we complain about $1,000 for a new phone every few years. But past generations paid well over 3 months’ rent for a primitive computer that did nothing. As expensive as our tech may seem, it’s so cheap compared to the past that it’s irresistible.

It’s become tied to personal style

In the last few decades, our choice of gadget has increasingly shown our personal style. It’s not just about having something flashy to show off. It’s about what particular thing you choose. You may deny it, but your choice of phone says a lot about you. Are you thrifty? Tech-forward? Flashy? Your phone tells the story. If you accessorize with a smartwatch or high-end earbuds, that says even more.

Making those choices says two things about you, and both are deeply rooted in some of those primitive urges. You’re showing that sense of style, which establishes you as being desirable to others (you hope.) Even if you choose something that isn’t conventionally stylish, you’re saying that you’re pragmatic. Deep down you want people to like you for that reason as well.

The other thing is the establishment of a sense of belonging. As humans, we’ve evolved to become social animals. We’re not terribly strong, fast, or agile compared to some of the things that might have eaten us in the wild. So, we spend time in groups for safety. Identifying your own group means some sort of token that you all share. It may have been an outfit or a flag in years past. Today you’re professing your allegiance to team Apple or team Android, to whatever group likes the same tech you do. Subconsciously it feels good.

Can you break out of the mold?

Obviously it’s possible for people to stop craving gadgets and other small objects. If you’re poor enough it’s really your only choice, unfortunately. But before you do, ask yourself: is your love of gadgets an obsession, or just a healthy way to get through life? If it’s affecting your finances, you’ll have to do something. But if it’s a way to have fun, there’s nothing wrong with it.

In fact, the best way to feed that gadget craving is to shop at sites like Solid Signal where you can get the best tech, hand-curated by people who love gadgets as much as you do!

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.