What Makes Gadgets So Fascinating?

What's in my werk bagThe frequent use of gadgets is a fairly modern trend, following the rise of the Industrial Revolution and modern technology – i.e., the mass production of small, complex objects. While we might consider the stopwatch as an older gadget, most of the gadgets we use these days are much more advanced in design. (Take multi-tools and LED flashlights, for example.)

Indeed, our reliance on, and fascination with, gadgets is so powerful that some people become addicted to obtaining the newest and most cutting-edge of everything. We often (unnecessarily) use them to accomplish simple tasks that could easily be achieved with our own two hands. So why the fascination with gadgets? To answer this question let’s take a look at the psychology behind gadget collecting.

Power. As Nietzsche famously described it, what all living things have in common (humans, plants and animals) is that they want to express their power – that is, the power of life, of being a living thing. Likewise, gadgets help us do powerful things, such as communicate with lots of people at once. Building a fire with the aid of camping knives or multi-tools is another example. Consider just how powerful your basic LED flashlight is; it provides light in a world that did not have electricity until a few hundred years ago! We may take the power these small gadgets give us for granted, but they really shine through in a bind. For example, what if Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher had had headlamps rather than a few candles when they were lost in the cave?

Aesthetics. We also love gadgets because of their aesthetic effects. There’s something enjoyable about the appearance of high quality LED flashlights with stainless steel casing or a rugged and shiny set of multi-tools. Just because a tool is made for practical purposes doesn’t mean it can’t also be pleasing to the eye. The craftsmanship behind a superb gadget is itself an art form.

Practical utility. Gadgets are popular because of their utility value. This is especially true when they allow us to do practical things without much effort. For instance, wearing headlamps when hunting or caving is a practical way of lighting your task because it places the light where you need it a leaves your hands free to accomplish your goal.

Boredom. Another reason many people turn to collecting gadgets is to escape the boredom or “down time” of life. Remember fiddling around with LED flashlights when you were a kid, making light puppets on the wall or telling ghost stories around the campfire purely to pass the time? There’s always something you can fix or tinker with if you have multi-tools or other gadgets with you.

Enjoyment. To summarize, the overall reason that we are fascinated by gadgets is the pure enjoyment we receive from them. They can help us solve puzzles (like using LED flashlights to search for lost items), and they can also provide us with new challenges – like fixing something that’s stopped working.

After all, if gadgets were just for utility, then why would we have so much fun using them?

[ photo by: Refracted Moments on Flickr, via CC License ]

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