We're in the grip of upgrade addiction

These new iPhones don't have any new bells or whistles - we pay £529 just for the pleasure of having something new

Share

My mum's dad lived near Swansea, his name was Bill and he drove a Volvo. He was terribly fond of Volvos. Every time we went to visit on summer holidays, he'd have a new Volvo that he'd bought a few weeks earlier. None of us understood why he felt the need to replace a perfectly functioning Volvo with another; we just knew he wasn't showing off – after all, it was a Volvo, and citizens of West Glamorgan have never been that impressed by Volvos. My grandpa simply suffered from an early form of a very modern malaise: upgrade compulsion.

That compulsion is better understood today, and particularly by the technology companies whose profit margins depend on it. The actual content of the launch of the iPhone 5 earlier this week felt almost immaterial; Apple CEO Tim Cook could have told us a parable using hand puppets made of dishcloths and we'd still want to buy one. That's how Apple has become the most valuable company in the world: by transforming customers like myself into unquestioning disciples. We figure that if they're calling it the iPhone 5, it's going to be one better than the iPhone 4, so that must be good – here, have £529.

Much has been written about the cost of producing iPhones versus the price we pay for them. But our upgrade compulsion makes the sums look even weirder. The iPhone 5 doesn't have many new bells and whistles; we pay £529 for something that does much the same as our existing iPhone but a bit faster, on a slightly bigger screen and within a slightly slimmer body.

We overlook drawbacks, such as the new, smaller “Lightning” connector that makes our old cables and chargers redundant, or the much-touted 4G capability (super-fast, next-generation internet access) that's only accessible if we're customers of the T-Mobile-Orange alliance that's now known, somewhat hubristically, as Everything Everywhere, or EE.

“When you think about your iPhone,” said its designer Jony Ive this week, “it's the object you use most in your life. You have it with you all the time.” Little wonder, perhaps, that we crave a change of scenery; upgrading is the same impulse that prompts us to rearrange the furniture in our living room or plant a new herbaceous border. We want a new vehicle to carry us through cyberspace – just like my grandpa wanted a new Volvo to get him up the road to Ystradgynlais. The journey's the same; upgrading just makes us feel marginally better about making it. I guess we have to grab these expensive crumbs of comfort where we can.

Twitter: @rhodri

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing