Is Apple addictive?

Cover ArtWith the Macworld Expo upon us the usual hype and speculation is again rife; and the coming weeks will no doubt see the regular postmortems. While I don’t wish to join this particular line of speculation, I would like to consider why it happens; not why Apple is secretive but why there is such an industry in speculation? What is it that makes so many people wish to hypothesise about what Apple may or may not do?

I’m currently reading “Everything Bad is Good for You.” by Steven Johnson – which is proving to be an entertaining read. But more to the point in the opening chapter he discusses how games such as EverQuest, Simcity and Ultima manage to get kids to learn without realising they are learning and; why people stick with something that (to an outsider) appears repetitive and frustrating? He suggests that a games’ power to captivate involves the games ability to tap into the brain’s natural reward circuitry, specifically the neurotransmitter dopamine interacting with the part of the brain known as the nucleus accumbens:

“The dopamine system is a kind of accountant: keeping track of expected rewards, and sending out an alert – in the form of lowered dopamine levels – when those rewards don’t arrive as promised. When a pack-a-day smoker deprives himself of his morning cigarette; when the hotshot Wall Street trader doesn’t get the bonus he was planning on; when the late-night snacker opens the freezer to find someone’s pilfered all the Ben & Jerry’s – the disappointment and craving these people experience is triggered by lowered dopamine levels.

The neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp calls the dopamine system the brain’s ‘seeking’ circuitry, propelling us to seek out new avenues for reward in our environment. Where our brain wiring is concerned, the craving instinct triggers a desire to explore. The system says, in effect: ‘Can’t find the reward you were promised? Perhaps if you just look a little harder you’ll be in luck – it’s got to be around here somewhere.”

Like gamers, Wall Street traders and late-night snackers are Apple fans driven by their dopamine system to seek out the next fix? Perhaps the lack of official information from Apple drives fans to explore and speculate – until of course all is revealed at the next Expo.

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