Toys as Personal Identify

Interesting thoughts in Electronics as Fashion–The Anti-Gizmo Fetish.

The topic of whether any particular device is actually useful or pleasing is a separate issue. I’m talking here about electronics as a fashion statement–an expression of personal identity. And for portable electronics, that statement is increasingly visible and public. Having a blu-ray player (when they were new) or a 3D TV (more recently) is one sort of fashion statement, but you need to mention it or have friends over for anyone to know. Having a portable device you use in public takes electronics-as-fashion to a new level. You really do “wear” it.

Me playing Nintendo with Two Broken Arms
Me playing Nintendo with Two Broken Arms

When I was really young, the older kids walked around with blaring boom boxes where bigger was better. Over the years these devices have shrunk in size to be as small as my keys when smaller became better. I guess values changed.

That people judge others by their possessions doesn’t seem like a revelation. Why stop at clothing and iPods (and derivatives) though? Pretty much anything with a brand expresses personal identity. The more rare, the more superior people feel over their counterparts so an iPad first among the social circle is good, but it is popular as a status symbol because few can afford a Ferrari. These interactions over toys are just the modern version of chest thumping for establishing who is the Alpha. We also train our children to try to become Alphas at a young age when there is a run on the must have item for Christmas. The toys just get more rare and expensive.

More interesting to me are the subcultures filled with anti-Alphas who reject portable electronics, drive barely functioning cars, or wear pithy teeshirts. Sometimes the better strategy isn’t to compete directly but to highlight different personally advantageous strengths. I think of the “hipster” archetype as trying to fill this role. If hunting isn’t your forte, then maybe growing the food works better so become the Alpha of that.

All these mind games are why humans have the big brains. 🙂


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