What Apple Babies Reveal About Our Tech Routines

What does an infant's affinity to Apple say about how technology affects us and our daily lives?

As part of an experiment for my forthcoming book Brandwashed, I lined up 20 babies between the ages of 14 and 20 months. I then handed each one a BlackBerry. No sooner had their soft chubby fists reached out to take the phone from me than they touched the screen expecting it to light up. When nothing happened, a few stuck it in their mouths whilst others moved on to something more interesting.

These babies, all under two years old, have already been converted to the Apple brand.

It does not stop with phones. If you place a toddler in front of a TV screen, chances are they will run their little fingers over the screen expecting the channel to change. Some are even more advanced, moving their fingers in such a way as to expand the screen to explore the finer details.

A whole new generation is being primed in their most formative years to think Apple. It's fascinating the way these new technology rituals have entered our lives. And they are replacing old rituals.

Consider this. You've just had a dream holiday. The trip was amazing: great friends, new adventures, fun-filled evenings, and perfect weather. It couldn't be better. But, as the cliché goes, all good things come to an end. You come home, turn on the computer, and find yourself right back in the center of reality. There is an inbox full of emails that need to be answered. There are forgotten deadlines with red "priority" flags. There are bills and notes, and a to-do list that just keeps getting longer.

But there's something missing. You've probably forgotten it by now, but it used to be an important part of any holiday—the expectation of photos. Remember when you'd go down to a local store and hand over your reels of film? Then there was the wait. A day or two later, you'd go back to collect your prints. How many times did you stand in the store, tear open the envelopes, and flick through the photographs still smelling of the chemicals used to develop the images. Precious mementos of a glorious time contained in that single envelope of prints and negatives.

This ritual is well and truly gone.

We have become a bunch of impatient snappers who shoot hundreds and hundreds of photographs. Just seconds after we've clicked the shutter (and yes, I mean seconds), we give the display a quick glance, get our moment of gratification, and move on. There's no delay—no waiting, no anticipating—the ritual is as dead as the proverbial Kodak moment.

Many years ago, Guinness, the great Irish brewery, released a slogan which stated "Good Things Take Time." They realized people had grown more impatient. But the wait was important because their stout required time to pour, and as importantly, time to settle. Today, some 20 years later, Guinness Beer is thriving. People will patiently wait while the bartender goes through the rigorous 10-minute ritual of pouring the beer, layer by layer, in order to enjoy the perfect pint.

The average American undertakes approximately 170 rituals a day—from shaking hands to picking up their cup of Starbucks. And even though no one gives them a thought, these rituals add up and shape our daily lives. What's interesting is that the number is steadily increasing. People have added, on average, six new rituals to their portfolio over the past four years. The more stress we feel, the more rituals we carry out.

Rituals create an artificial space around us where we feel safe from our everyday pressures. Trouble at work, trouble with relationships, and trouble with children all add up to us searching for more rituals to keep our anxieties at bay. Take time to observe professional athletes as they prepare for a big race. They are usually engaged in one ritual after another in an attempt to minimize failure and create a positive place for success. However, you don't need to go much further than surface level to see that the types of rituals we undertake today have changed. All those that involve building anticipation have been replaced with our need for instant gratification—like viewing a photograph within moments of taking it.

Rituals are immensely powerful from a branding point of view (although surprisingly few brands really get how powerful they are). It's time for all of us to introduce a big dose of patience into our lives, into our routines, and of course, into our brands. Numerous studies show that it's the anticipation we enjoy the most. Looking forward to a vacation tends to be more rewarding than the actual trip. Planning to buy the latest camera, with its improved features and functions, is a whole lot more exciting than using it. Yet, for some reason we've skipped anticipation, opting instead for instant gratification. Sadly, along the way we've slowly and unknowingly killed many invaluable rituals which once defined our lives. They now seem odd and outdated. The question is: Were the rituals really that outdated? Or have we become too demanding?

Martin Lindstrom is a 2009 recipient of TIME Magazine's "World's 100 Most Influential People" and author of Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (Doubleday, New York), a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best—seller. His latest book, Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy, will be released in September. A frequent advisor to heads of numerous Fortune 100 companies, Lindstrom has also authored 5 best-sellers translated into 30 languages. More at martinlindstrom.com.

Read more by Lindstrom: Lego Brand-Hijacks The Space Shuttle, Takes Over The News

[Image: Flickr user Chewbacka]

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9 Comments

  • darrylj

    Here's a radical theory, children under the age of 2 tend to touch anything within arms reach. This includes, unsurprisingly, small (or big) screens displaying vivid motion-graphic visuals. 

    Here's another compelling theory, if you place a toddler in front of a - insert object here - chances are they will run their little fingers over the - insert object here - expecting the - insert object here - to change.

    To suggest the toddlers included in your impromptu study have somehow been miraculously converted to the Apple brand because of a natural human tendency to touch bright flashy things is, quite frankly, absurd. 

    Just which brands were these toddlers loyal to before their apparent conversion over to Apple? This is nonsense. If anything, only a crude observation into the power of multi-touch screen interfaces to captivate the mind of a 2-year old. 

  • Rain Tree

    Think there is a large gap between the assumption that all touch screen relate back to Apple products. Older sibling use interactive whiteboards that react to touch, the mall kiosk is a touch screen, the screen on the last plane ride was touch activated. Agreed that as parents bring more and more touch devices into the home, the expectations are --and this is most evidently displayed in toddlers reactions to small screen --that all "small" screens are touch. And as this post suggests (http://bit.ly/o7HHjN), maybe that's the way all of us are heading, with Moms leading the way.

  • Bess W

    Nice try, but you miss a fundamental point - we have replaced our rituals, but without understanding what those rituals were doing for us.  It's no wonder that we add more and more empty gesture to our lives, hoping for magic to happen.

    To your first point: When you push a button on a modern remote control, a light illuminates under the button (or a chirp on the landline phone buttons): you have made contact; the light confirms that your input has been received.  Babies *love* remote controls with this feature purely because they have some confirmation that they have attained interaction with this object.  Similarly, they love Apple's iPhone and iPad because the pictures move with their touch.  The baby receives instant feedback that they have made the connection.  However, we have *always* taught babies to expect instant feedback.  When a baby smiles at her mother, the mother smiles back right away.  Apple product design merely taps into this desire to fully interact with our environment.  (In the off position, your BlackBerry's buttons don't do *anything* interesting when pushed.  Boring.)  Your experiment merely concludes that babies are... babies.
    There was a time when you would have your vacation photos made into slides to share with everyone who was unfortunate enough to accept a dinner invitation.  There would be an appropriate waiting period for the slides to arrive in your mailbox, then the storytelling could begin.There was a time when you would turn your computer on, go downstairs to get a cup of coffee, then return to the computer to see if it had finished its boot sequence yet.

    Patience.

    Patience is an adult virtue, a sign of maturity.  The rituals that have meaning are the ones that make us take time, tell a story face to face, share part of ourselves.  They are difficult, they are precious and they take energy and time.  While your bartender is crafting your Guinness, you are unwinding your day, telling the threads of a story, or listening to someone else's.  You are making a connection on a deeper, more mature level.

    The trick companies use is the one that tries to convince us that a fast, empty gesture is the equivalent of a meaningful ritual.  

    I'm not sorry to see the slide projectors go, nor the endless boot sequence.  I am sorry to see so many photographs on my computer that they seem less about memories and more about data acquisition.  The thoughtlessness of seeing your photograph immediately after taking it removes you from experiencing the moment.  However, the thoughtful photographer asks "does this photo tell the story of this moment?  Can it help me relive this experience?"  

    I'm happy to have metadata available to sort through my photos, and even happier that I'm not collecting photo prints shoved into a box under the bed.  (sifting through unorganized photos is *not* a meaningful ritual)  The smart companies have acknowledged the need to make our data more meaningful, to help us weave the data into information and build the stories we want to share.  As our technology matures, our workflow to manage the meaning in our data glut needs to mature as well.

  • Mogwai

    We started wtih infants being able ot interact with technology so advanced it's simple, and ended with bemoaning the loss of rituals in our day-to-day lives?

    Martin, when I first started reading your articles, I thought perhaps I was being too demanding. But, no, you need to jot out a structure before you start typing man. At the moment it's just the ramblings of someone with insight but no productive outlet.

    Do it! Just do it and you're there!

  • Stephen G

    Agreed with Jennifer C.  The smarts with Apple is making a design that follows intuitive actions.  Instinct is to see a face on a screen and you touch it, not to look for some other interface off to the side to interact with that face.

  • Jennifer C

    It is more likely that Apple's human-centered designs have incorporated our instinct to learn and manipulate through touch than these babies having been indoctrinated into the Apple brand. After all, babies have been putting their sticky fingers on television screens long before Apple.
    In this case, it's not a trick, it's good design.

  • Kyle M

    My two-year-old is amazing with my iPad, but her actions aren't rituals, they're interactions. My concern isn't that she's losing her "Kodak moments," it's that she'll be frustrated by a physical keyboard and mouse in a couple years. 

    I also want to call BS on the statement that "chances are," a toddler expects to interact with a TV the way they do with iPhone/iPad. The market penetration isn't THAT high...more than half of toddlers expect displays to be touchscreens?

    Nice headline, in any case.

  • Jeremy Burns

    I think the missing statement was to confirm that those 20 babies has been previously exposed to certain level of interaction with some Apple devices. But the headline has pointed it out anyway. 

    What matters most is the ammount of insights you can get from Martin's pov. Quite useful for some  branding strategy for sure.