Electronic Design

Electronics Is Addictive

The electronics industry, like the tobacco industry, has known for a long time that its products are addictive to humans. That is what keeps the electronics industry and the tobacco businesses booming. Okay, I do admit that there are convenience, productivity, entertainment, and security issues that make electronics so valuable, but those do not mitigate the addiction factor. I have tried to think of this in terms of something that is just habit-forming or life-simplifying but, no, I am staying with addictive, as in drug-like.

I suppose that the addiction started with the earliest electronics devices like radios. Radios were like electricity early on, affordable only by the rich and more of a curiosity than a real useful product. But as the number of stations grew and the cheaper the radios became, more people bought them. Then, they took on an addictive characteristic as listeners got used to the near instantaneous news, the music, the dramas, and other programs. Pretty soon, families were glued to the radio every night. Then we started putting radios in cars and making smaller A, B, and C batteries for our suitcase-sized portable beach/picnic radios.

The telephone qualifies as an electronic device. Is it addictive or what? Electric power and lights came into being just after we wired the country for telephones, and just as quickly it too became one more addiction. Like all our utilities, once you have them you just cannot do without them. One of the best comparisons is air conditioning (A/C). We all got along just fine without it at one time. But once you experience it on a regular basis and get used to it, you just have to have it. Now virtually everything is air conditioned. Are you addicted to it? After almost 30 continuous days of over 100-degree weather here in Texas, I admit, I don't want to give up A/C although those huge monthly electric bills are killing me.

Another good addiction is gasoline. Even though the prices have gone through the roof this year, we still drive. It basically hasn't slowed us down any and SUV sales are still strong according to a study I saw recently. We are addicted to oil. Let's face it, we would do anything for it. And as it gets even more scarce, you can bet we will be willing to get it at whatever cost.

Two of our most addictive electronic gadgets are TV and cell phones. We spend on average of 4 or more hours a day watching TV. That is 25% of our waking hours. If you don't call that addiction, what is it? Now we have TV in cars and it is just now coming to cell phones. And just think of all the electronic items that support and extend our video addiction. Like TiVo, video games, and DVD players with a NetFlix subscription. Cable TV with its hundreds of channels and video-on-demand support our habit.

I suspect the latest addiction is the MP3 player. With the iPod leading the way, I am sure that Steve Jobs is smiling as he congratulates himself on realizing how addictive these bloody devices are. Of course, TV broadcast on an iPod is next.

And what about laptops? First they were a fad. But once battery life got to a reasonable level, they became a necessity to many. Now I think since you can compute anywhere, people want to, badly.

Cell phones may actually be even worse. They are the heroin of electronics. Everyone is on the phone. At all times. And not only can we talk to whomever whenever, we can also instant message, e-mail, or search the Internet. Those e-mail cell phones like the BlackBerry and Treo are particularly addictive. They even have a name for the affliction of those who just cannot stop checking their email: CrackBerry. I swerved to avoid a woman in a Lexus SUV who ran up on the curb while thumbing her BlackBerry on the steering wheel the other day. She never looked up. You can't tell me some people really have the addiction bad. Just try to take away someone's cell phone. The Internet and the cell phone carriers are just feeding our habit. They are the support systems that make it all possible. Somehow we just crave a permanent link or perpetual connection to home, work, friends, the Internet, or some entertainment sources. It has become almost obsessive compulsive.

So maybe I am just pointing out what we all already know. Electronics really is addictive. Once we have it we are hooked. But that's a good thing, right? Electronics is just part of our lifestyle and prosperity. No one wants… or can… give that up. Even those from the lowest of economic backgrounds smoke, watch TV, and use cell phones.

And besides, what is the down side of this addiction? None too bad. However, some have said that we have become anti-social by going into our own world as we watch TV, play games, or listen on our iPods. We have less human contact and interaction, and yes, I suppose that is not entirely okay. But cell-phone users certainly have lots of human contact. So maybe that balances it out. No one gets hurt.

This addiction drives our industry. Be happy for your own addiction and that of others. It pays the bills and will continue to do so as we invent better, more interesting, and addictive products. Maybe we should study and adopt some of the practices of the tobacco and drug businesses as it could help create a larger and more robust electronics industry with more for everyone. After all, it is not illegal… yet.

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