Staying constantly connected to one another through technology has become a normal part of everyday life, so it’s inevitable that owning the latest products has become a status symbol.
“Technology has become an intrinsic part of modern life,” says Paul Boag, co-founder of web design agency Headscape and host of the boagworld podcast. “However, this is not due to a push from any particular sector. Instead we are seeing a cultural shift as profound as the Renaissance where there are huge leaps forward in many different areas simultaneously.”
Boag says that society is experiencing innovations at every turn, and each one is working together to cause a huge transformation of our culture. He thinks the popularity of modern technology is simply a reflection of a broad trend in society.
Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis has a different perspective. He believes the need to keep up with the latest technology is a trend led by consumers.
You are definitely not "cool" if you don’t have the latest technology in cell phones, one or more iPads, and an e-book reader.
“Tech companies are certainly encouraging this, and some have gotten much better at advertising benefits to consumers, not just technical specs,” Greengart says. “That said, if consumers weren’t interested, the products wouldn’t sell.”
Using Technology as a Status Symbol
James Anthos, program director for Information Technology at South University, Columbia, believes that staying up to date with the latest technology allows consumers to convey a certain level of status.
“You are definitely not ‘cool’ if you don’t have the latest technology in cell phones, one or more iPads, and an e-book reader,” Anthos says. “Even the government is pushing for the standard use of e-books instead of printed textbooks. In business and school, your status suffers if you do not have a 4G phone with Bluetooth and unlimited calling and text.”
Anthos notes that keeping up with the latest technology has become such an important status symbol to many consumers that some will spend hundreds of dollars on cell phones each month, when they cannot afford to eat well or purchase necessary medications.
Boag agrees that modern technology is a status symbol among certain sectors of society, but also says those who refuse to keep up with it make a statement of their own.
“Either way, our use of technology says something of our character and helps define us,” Boag says. “Whether that statement is a positive or negative one depends on which group of people you are talking about.”
Boag says if you define yourself as a geek, carrying outdated technology around would reflect negatively upon you, but this could vary greatly in other parts of society.
“For example sticking with the same phone until it no longer operates would be considered very highly among those who believe in minimizing their environmental impact,” Boag says. “Equally a particularly old phone could be considered 'retro' and so, once again, fashionable in certain circles.”
Boag admits to choosing his tech devices based on what his peers are using.
“My own decision to move to a Mac was largely driven from a desire to emulate those I admired,” he says. “Emulation is a big part of the equation. Technology is a way to aspire to the status of others or associate oneself with a particular group. It is also a way to impress others.”
Putting the Latest Technology on Display
Anthos says people enjoy showing their tech devices off, because it makes them feel important and trendy.
“Most people make sure that they always have their device in sight, spend an inordinate amount of time pressing the screen to the point of walking into a pole, in front of a bus, or tripping because they are so absorbed in handling and showing off their device,” Anthos says.
Greengart says there are different social norms of showing off tech devices, which tend to vary by culture.
“In Europe, it is common to leave your phone on the table when you eat, ostensibly to check incoming text messages, but there’s definitely an element of showing off,” Greengart says. “In the U.S., we’re more direct. We’ll wave around that iPhone, publicly ask Siri to remind us things, and not-so-casually wear $300 headphones as fashion statements, often without the cord connected.”
Boag finds the accessories that people choose in an attempt to personalize their devices to be very interesting.
“This is particularly true for devices like the iPhone which are so pervasive,” Boag says. “People feel the need to personalize them so they are more than just another iPhone owner.”
Modern Technology is Trendy for Everyone
According to iMedia inc., Americans spend 2.7 hours per day socializing on their mobile device. This is more than twice the amount of time they spend eating, and more than one third the time they spend sleeping each day.
Greengart says that although the younger generation tends to use technology more, using modern technology can be seen as trendy for all age groups.
“I know seniors who all have iPads and home theater systems and I know teens with basic cell phones,” Greengart says. “Broadly speaking, though, I agree that technology is being used as a social marker.”
Greengart says that using certain tech devices can be used as a status symbol for people of all ages.
“Social status is important for all age groups — ever been to a country club?” Greengart asks. “Younger demographics do use technology more as a status marker than older generations, but they also simply use technology more, and often in more innovative ways, than their parents or grandparents because their comfort level is higher. If you grow up with an iPod or Hulu or the internet, it isn’t ‘technology,’ it’s an iPod or Hulu or the internet.”
Anthos agrees the younger generation uses technology the most, but says middle-aged people are catching up quickly.
“It seems as though most people, both young and old, must be continuously piddling with their phone, iPad, or some other electronic device or they are viewed as technology deprived and not a very interesting person,” Anthos says. “After all, everyone needs to be able to tweet their every thought and move. Personally, I believe very few people care what someone is doing and thinking every minute of every day.”