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Gadgets

Crave Talk: Why are all our gadgets glossy?

Ever wondered why all modern gadgets are shiny? Why does your iPod pick up fingerprints, and why does your laptop look like a post-operation swab?

The same cleaning rituals that obsess some car owners are now being adopted by the gadget lover. Our public transport network is filled with grown men using small felt cloths to rub fingerprints off their Sony PSPs or lint off their LG Shine.

Despite our protests at iPods that scratch too easily and laptops that end up looking like post-operation swabs, we secretly love to wrestle dust out of their nooks and crannies, polishing them back into a glossy shine -- there's a strange sense of satisfaction to the task.

In fact, many gadgets now come with a branded cleaning-cloth, a shammy leather for the technology lover. In maintaining the object we grow closer to it, taking on a responsibility for its appearance as an extension of ourselves. In the same way we iron a shirt, or comb our hair, we clean our iPods -- lest we be judged for the fingerprints they carry.

But where does this desire for shiny things come from, and why is the consumer electronics industry so keen to exploit it?

Some academics explain our attraction to gloss as an innate human desire to touch things that reflect light. Birds, cats and fish are all attracted to bright surfaces that glisten. In 2003, a psychological study into the effects of reflective surface finishes on human children concluded that, "infants and toddlers have been observed to mouth and to lick the horizontal metal mirrors of toys on their hands and knees", apparently taking the reflection as a visual cue for the presence of water.

So, are gadget-makers taking advantage of a primitive human habit of attributing value to water, and therefore attributing value to surfaces that appear like water?

If you're reluctant to accept the water theory, there's also our adult fascination with gems and diamonds to consider -- largely fostered by decades of marketing campaigns associating jewels with social status. Many consumers feel a psychological need to publicly display their wealth and power. These conspicuous status symbols could take the form of a diamond, a shiny red Corvette or the new iPhone.

The laptop industry has taken particular advantage of our 'magpie instinct' to flock towards the glossiest computer in the store. A few years ago, glossy laptop screens were the exception -- it was considered undesirable to have the room you were sitting in reflected back on to the document you're working on. Now you're hard-pressed to find a laptop without a glossy screen.

Consumers have a tendency to mindlessly migrate towards the glossiest thing in the store and buy it on impulse, a habit that the industry is catching on to quickly. If you can accept the hypothesis that as animals we just can't resist the shiniest objects, then prepare to defend yourself against the onslaught. Wearing sunglasses in the Apple Store would be a start. -Chris Stevens