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Why the iPad is the most addictive gadget yet

Is the iPad addictive? We look at the symptoms.

Serendipity. Did you ever wonder why people channel surf compulsively? We don't want to know what's on, but what else is on. We're driven by the possibility of undiscovered gratification. When we have 500 channels, settling on any one of them can produce a gentle anxiety. There might be something crazy, scintillating, scandalous, fascinating, historic or engaging on some other channel.

People fight over the remote because they feel a need to control the hunt. We're addicted to TV and channel surfing because, in part, we crave the rush that accompanies accidental discovery.

Window to the world. Related to serendipity is the uncomfortable feeling that something is going on somewhere. What am I missing? Is there breaking news? Has another earthquake hit? Did another celebrity die? The internet is the ultimate 'window to the world' drug. We use Twitter, news sites, Digg, Facebook and other sites to check in compulsively to make sure we don't miss what's happening.

Identity. People (especially young people) find identity in the products they buy. Mobile phones are a major source of identity, as are clothes, cars, jewellery and other products. Once an identify-conferring object is acquired, it feels necessary - like something we need. If you don't believe this, try telling a teenager what clothes to wear. Try convincing a Mustang owner to buy a Prius.

In addition to superficial image identity, people come to see electronics (as discovered in the Stanford study) as an extension of their bodies and minds. Stored data becomes prosthetic memory. The ability to conjure up answers anytime, anywhere evolves from a novelty to a need. Take it away, and people feel its absence as a phantom limb. Some gadgets become part of who we are.

Escapism. Now that we're surrounded by internet-connected computers and mobile phones, we know that distraction is always a click away. The more we indulge the impulse to amuse ourselves with some distraction, the more addictive distractions become. The second some task becomes even slightly boring, people compulsively switch to a favoured website to watch the latest time-wasting video. Escapism is an addiction.

Why iPad is the most addictive gadget yet

So here's the problem. While some tech products and services have one or two addictive drug-like elements, the iPad has them all. iPad users are speed-balling seven addictive qualities at once.

True instant-on, instant-off and fast overall performance means instant gratification. The iPad offers social interaction via Facebook, Twitter and all the other social sites. The multi-touch user interface offers video-game like response to input, which BoingBoing.net co-editor Xeni Jardin described as "sensual", "tactile", and "a greater leap into a new user experience than the sum of its parts suggests".

Web surfing and the app store give us the thrill of serendipity. It's a window to the world. It's a high-status source of personal identity that becomes part of who we are. And it's an escapism machine par excellence.

In addition to the presence of addictive qualities, the iPad lacks annoying qualities. It's silent. Unlike a PC or laptop, you're not irritated by a constant whirring fan. It's pretty to look at, without the clunky, industrial ugliness of a desktop PC. It's portable. It's refined.

And the piece de resistance, the App Store, is being filled as we speak by thousands of applications that are themselves highly addictive, especially games.

After months of use, the iPad will prove habit forming and turn millions of users into defenceless junkies who can't function without an iPad in their face.

Which raises questions. Should the Apple iPad come with a warning label? Should psychologists be studying its effects? Is the iPad dangerous? Should we keep it away from kids?

That may be going too far. But at the very least, 'screen addiction' is a very real problem. And the iPad certainly doesn't help. In a worst-case scenario, iPads will usher in a new epidemic of gadget dependency.

See also:

Web users at risk of social networking addiction

Uni finds link between depression and net addiction

Apple iPad review

Apple iPad news spotlight

Apple news

Computerworld

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