Why We Really "Need" iPhone X

Latest editorial by Mal Fletcher
Posted on: Friday 3 November 2017

If you’re rushing out to buy an iPhone X (pronounced “ten”), you’ll be paying significantly more than you did for its two immediate predecessors, iPhone 7 or 8.

The differential is $300 in the US. The total price in the UK is close to £1000.

You won’t, however, be investing in much by way of revolutionary new technology. The underlying architecture of the phone is not that different. The major innovation seems to be a larger screen size, using a design approach already taken by Samsung.

So, if the technology is not that new, why will people fork out for a new iPhone when perhaps they already have the latest-but-one incarnation thereof?

Over the past two or three years, new phones generally have not offered great advances in technology. That’s not why we buy them. As one iPhone X reviewer put it, we don’t buy the new phone because we need it but because “we want one!”

The decision to purchase is not one based on need; it’s all about emotion - especially what MTV once called FOMO, the fear of missing out. 

Those of us who use gadgets relatively frequently - or a lot - don’t like to feel that we’re missing the latest iteration of a favourite gadget because tech plays such a central role in our day-to-day lives.

Yes, there are some advances in technology that we truly find revolutionary. But most of the advance happens in incremental and even largely unnoticeable ways.

When it comes to new gadgets, emotion trumps questions about technology.

Today, technology no longer simply helps us do things. It helps us define who we are and declare our values to the world.

Technology, especially the mobile variety, isn’t just about microchips any more; it’s about being part of a narrative.

We want the latest gadgets partly because we’re influenced by social acculturation, the desire (and the pressure) to belong. That’s why Apple product launches are always such dazzling events. They’re saying to us, “Hey you don’t just need this product, you need to belong to this very attractive community, you need to plug into this story, this cause.”

That’s a powerful hook-line, especially in a world that often seems to revolve around alienation and estrangement.

We also fear missing out because we rely more and more on machines to do our thinking for us. 

We want to believe that the latest technologies will help us function better, thinking more sharply and being more organised.

Long ago we ceded arithmetic to machines, in the form of pocket calculators. (I know, what are they?!) Then we gave up navigation to satnavs.

Gradually, we’re surrendering the need to spell anything, in favour of predictive text. Meanwhile, we mediate more and more of our relationships via screens, which are our constant companions.

Some children now scan screens as much as or more than they scan human faces. Hence the growing number of young children in the UK who exhibit ADD-like symptoms, though they’ve not been officially diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder.

In fact, we’re now so tech-reliant that the average Brit won’t move more than three metres from her phone at any time. More than sixty percent of CEOs from London’s top listed companies will answer a text or email at any given time of day.

In our growing engagement with digital tools, we’re starting to form transactional relationships with them. We don’t remember what we learn on the internet, we remember where we found it.

We rely on software programmes like Pocket or Evernote to store the information. Because it’s not being stored in human memory, it produces no benefits in terms of inspiring innovation later on.

The question for us is not whether the iPhone X, or any other new gadget, is worth having. Clearly, people will find valid reasons to buy them. The question is whether we’re giving enough thought as to how we utilise them.

I delight in reminding audiences I address in many countries that technology is amoral. We are not a product of our technologies, but of how we choose to use them.

Nanorobotics, microscopic machines built from the atomic level up, will one day soon be injected into the human blood stream to identify and take out bacteria and even cancer cells.

The same technology can, however, be weaponised to carry harmful chemicals, which could be injected into the air we breathe.

The Latin language features a word “addictus”. It was used to describe the length of time and indentured servant would serve his master. The servant - or slave - was called the “addict”.

Whatever model iPhone, Samsung, Windows or other phone we use, the central question we must address is this: who is the addict in this relationship?