Is technology spawning a generation of neophiles?

A discussion of humans need for change and the possible impact of technology in creating neophiles.

A Computer Keyboard With Keys Spelling Sale by cooldesign ( month of June is not just the start of summer. It also signals the imminent roll out of new computing products on the market in time for September back to school, and until about mid-October, announcements of new devices that should be available by Christmas. Over the past three to five years, there appears to be a growing sense of anticipation of those new releases by the public, resulting in record sales for manufacturers, vendors and suppliers. However is this enthusiastic consumerism a signal of a little known condition: neophilia? Here, we discuss the condition, some of the pros and cons, and how technology might be facilitating more persons to become neophiles.

Neophilia 101

Coined by writer and psychologist, Robert Anton Wilson, a neophile (or neophiliac) is a person with a strong affinity for novelty, and tends to possess the following traits:

  • an ability to adapt rapidly to extreme change
  • a distaste or downright loathing of tradition, repetition, and routine
  • a tendency to become bored quickly with old things
  • a desire, bordering on obsession in some cases, to experience novelty
  • a corresponding and related desire to create novelty by creating or achieving something and/or by stirring social or other forms of unrest.

As an evolving specie, some degree of neophilia is necessary in humans, and is critical to our continued survival on the planet. We do need the ability to tolerate, and even embrace change, which could be manifested as exploration, simulation and innovation. Additionally, acceding to psychiatrist, Dr. C. Robert Cloninger, “Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age” (Source: New York Times), which is exceedingly valuable since were living longer. However, in that same article, Dr. Cloninger also noted that novelty seeking can also lead to antisocial behavior, which within the context of our survival, must be counterbalanced by, among other things, discipline, safety and security.

A shopping addiction?

Within the context of today’s society, and especially in the consumer electronic space, there appears to be an expectation, both on the part of consumers and vendors that something new, different and better is always necessary. As a result, there is a continual flurry of new product releases to market, though frequently, those devices appear to be just marginal improvements from previous versions. However, the consumer excited to replace devices that might be merely just months old to get “the latest and the best”.

It therefore appears that increasingly, we as consumers are becoming conditioned to the thrill of acquiring something new, rather than to carefully consider the utility of those proposed purchases against what we might already possess or can access.

Neophilia and information overload

Over the past few years, access to the Internet through our mobile and portable devices has become easier and relatively inexpensive. However, it also means that we are continually being bombarded with information – emails, tweets, messages, notifications, etc. – as the world becomes increasingly connected.

Though we might try to react to all of the information and stimuli we are receiving, what is actually happening is that our reading and understanding of what is going on around us, or even perhaps matters that are affecting us directly, is becoming superficial at best:

At this point in our warp-speed information age, our well-being demands that we understand and control our neophilia lest it control us. We already crunch four times more data — e-mail, tweets, searches, music, video, and traditional media — than we did just thirty years ago, and this deluge shows no signs of slackening. To thrive amid unprecedented amounts of novelty, we must shift from being mere seekers of the new to being connoisseurs of it… (Source: Brain Pickings)

In summary, though we appear to have a growing appetite for change, especially the “new and improved” we ought to be wary of having a (somewhat) slavish, Pavlovian response, especially in the consumer technology space. More careful examination of the reasons for our excitement – before we buy – may be necessary, along with re-developing our skills to discriminate between important information, to which we must pay attention, and ‘the noise’.


 Image credit:  cooldesign (


1 Comment

  • This is a rhetorical discussion because it is the neophilia in our nature that has brought us this far with technological development, the possibility that the proportion of neophiles to non- neophiles might increase is a result of chance and really not under our control. Those are the invisible ingredients that we refer to as pre-destined outcomes. Similar to how many people will continue to believe in God and how many won’t

Comments are closed.