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Forget flashy cars, expensive watches, or a luxury apartment. For many of us, buying the new iPhone as soon as it comes out is the ultimate status symbol. However, while you may think that rocking the newest model is something that happened of your own free will, I’m afraid you’re about to discover how very wrong you are.
In reality, every time you make a new purchase, there’s a multitude of hidden mechanisms going on behind the scenes to encourage you to buy. From complex marketing techniques to the very hardwiring of our brains, there’s almost no escape from the impulse to buy the newest, shiniest tech. In fact, some scientists believe that we may actually be genetically programmed always want the newest products.
However, before we get to the science behind our decision to buy, let me introduce you to a little concept known as planned obsolescence. Planned obsolescence is an industrial design strategy that encourages customers to upgrade their products sooner than strictly necessary. General Motors are widely attributed with inventing planned obsolescence in the 1920s, as a way to boost sales and increase profits.
People often mention the Centennial Bulb when talking about planned obsolescence. This bulb is a whopping 115 years old, and has been burning non-stop since it was first switched on in 1901. If such a thing is possible, why do most standard light bulbs last no longer than a few years? You guessed it: planned obsolescence.
Ever wondered why you can’t just open your iPhone and change the battery yourself? That’s planned obsolescence in action. How about when you upgrade your phone’s software, only to find that it’s made the entire device so slow it’s barely usable? Planned obsolescence.
Collaborative economy expert Rachel Botsman said: “It’s almost unbelievable that consumers haven’t stood up and said the planned obsolescence of the gadget industry is absolutely obscene and not serving them.”
Where does genetics come into all this? Well, in a bizarre coincidence, it turns out that our brains are doing the exact same thing as the tech companies: always favouring the new over the old.
How? Well, it turns out that our brains react in two totally different ways depending on whether we’re experiencing something new or old. Just like our phone’s software upgrade when exposed to an old handset, our brain simply doesn’t turn on when faced with the same old stuff.
It turns out that our brains can’t escape the alluring concept of novelty, which might go a long way to understanding why we simply can’t help buying new things. Thanks to work from researchers Nico Bunzeck and Emrah Düzel, we’ve discovered that being exposed to something new actually activates the dopamine in the brain, a chemical which is responsible for rewards-based behaviour.
As Düzel, a UCL neuroscientist, explained: “When we see something new, we see it has a potential for rewarding us in some way. This potential that lies in new things motivates us to explore our environment for rewards. The brain learns that the stimulus, once familiar, has no reward associated with it and so it loses its potential. For this reason, only completely new objects activate the midbrain area and increase our levels of dopamine.”
Our brains’ love of all things novel has a big influence on our decision making, including the decision to splash out on an upgraded model. Aner Sela, marketing professor at the University of Florida, and Robyn LeBoeuf of Washington University have been examining the phenomenon of “comparison neglect.”
Comparison neglect is a marketing phenomenon in which people typically give a more favourable bias to an upgraded product without evaluating the product they already own.
Sela and LeBoeuf conducted a series of five studies of more than 1,000 smartphone users aged between 18 and 78. When consumers were asked to select what they already had versus an upgraded smartphone or app, the majority chose the upgrade, even when they were given a list of features of both products.
Sela said: “We were not asking people to recall existing features from memory. We put them in front of people side-by-side. But unless we tell them to compare, they don’t do it. They don’t use the information in the way they themselves say they should be using it. That’s what makes this so surprising.”
The evidence for comparison neglect is clear when looking at the phenomenon of widespread iPhone upgrading. Even if the difference between the two phones is negligible, and the features aren’t that much better than the old model, we’ll still chose the upgraded model every time.
And if that’s true, what happens if Apple decides to throw a redesigned camera, double the battery life, and more GBs in our face? We don’t stand a chance.
Combine this with the inescapable fact of planned obsolescence and our brain’s obsession with the novel, and we’ve got a clear picture of why we can’t help buying the newest phone as soon as it’s out. In every instance, old equals bad, and new equals good.
So it seems clear that our brains are failing us when it comes to staying away from attempting to honestly figure out if we really need the novel new iPhone. The important question, however, is not why we buy, but what that buying does to us. Can a new iPhone really make us happy?
Once the novelty of the product has lost its shine and we’ve cracked the screen from dropping it one too many times, the happiness we once felt seems to evaporate into thin air. However, it’s not just tech that makes  us feel this way. In fact, it turns out that buying anything, from a bottle of wine to a shiny new car, will always fail to make us truly happy.
A study conducted by researchers from UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and the University of North Carolina looked at how various kinds of happiness affects our how our genes behave in the body. The researchers found that when we experience hedonistic happiness, which is the kind of happiness we get from buying material things, we’re left with increased inflammation and reduced resistance to attack.
On the other hand, when we experience eudaimonic happiness, which is the kind of happiness we get from personal fulfilment and helping others, the opposite occurs. When experiencing eudaimonic happiness, our genes change their behaviour in a way that can actually help reduce inflammatory responses and increase antiviral and antibody production.
So it looks like buying the new iPhone might not only fail to make us happy, but it might even effect our long term health. Instead of splashing all your cash on the newest phone, why not take your bestie on a city break, or spend some time with your grandma? Who knows, it could even save your life. From Viral Thread

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