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The psychology of lining up for iPhones
The love is real
 
The faithful wait outside London's flagship Apple store on Sept. 20.
The faithful wait outside London's flagship Apple store on Sept. 20. (Mary Turner/Getty Images)

Today is iPhone Day 2013, which means that small armies of Apple faithful have already spent hours camping outside Apple stores in hopes of getting their hands on a pretty new phone. It's a peculiar way to spend your time, at least at first glance — you're outside, sleep-deprived, and surrounded by dozens of people who are, at least for the time being, your fanatical competition. Why would any self-respecting human subject themselves to irritations for hours on end for what's essentially a 4-inch piece of glass, plastic, and aluminum?

To say that society possesses a deep obsession with smartphones is something of an understatement. Several studies over the past few years have done an ample job of illustrating the degree of this attachment. A 2011 survey by communications firm TelNav, for example, found that a third of all people would rather give up sex for a week than go without their cellphone. Another 70 percent said they'd happily give up alcohol.

Our gadgets, of course, have become our primary communication portals — only now that extends well beyond just our friends and family. Twitter lets us have fleeting chats with strangers, Instagram encourages us to click little hearts next to photos we like, and Snapchat allows us to take and send visual cues that would otherwise be inhibited by inconveniences like physical geography. The breadth of these capabilities is at least partly why — as this author once learned — losing our phones feels like losing a loyal pet.

"The cell phone's no longer just a cell phone; it's become the way we communicate and a part of our life," says Dr. Esther Swilley, a marketing professor at Kansas State University, who has spent some time researching this connection. "People share other devices like computers, but cell phones are an interesting thing because we each have our own. That individual ownership is a really big deal for people."

The sense of ownership helps explain why the tech commentariat is so quick to draw divisions in the sand between camps like Team Android and Team Apple. It also partially explains why people are willing to forego a good night's rest for an incremental selling point like a fingerprint sensor.

That near-religious fervor may actually be measurable, too. In a 2011 BBC documentary, The Secret of Superbrands, which looked at the fierce devotion of Google and Apple fans, neuroscientists hooked up an Apple fanatic's brain to an MRI scanner. The author writes:

I searched high and low for answers. The Bishop of Buckingham — who reads his Bible on an iPad — explained to me the similarities between Apple and a religion.

And when a team of neuroscientists with an MRI scanner took a look inside the brain of an Apple fanatic it seemed the bishop was on to something.

The results suggested that Apple was actually stimulating the same parts of the brain as religious imagery does in people of faith. [BBC News]

It may be disturbing for some to think that a brand can make the same inroads into a person's heart and mind as the promise of everlasting salvation, but it goes a long way in helping us understand why people willingly camp out for the right to spend their hard-earned money before other people can.

"My family and friends think I'm crazy for doing this," Greg Packer, a notorious line-sitter who regularly camps outside of Apple's flagship store on Fifth Avenue for product releases, once told our own Keith Wagstaff. "Once it's in my hands, it will be all worth it."

 
Chris Gayomali is the science and technology editor for TheWeek.com. Sometimes he writes about other stuff. His work has also appeared in TIME, Men's JournalEsquire, and The Atlantic.

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