Our increasing desire for the best, fastest, most modern technology is creating a new generation of upgrade-obsessed consumers. Trendwatching.com has coined a name for this obsession: Upgradia. The common tech consumer feeds the new system of purchasing, using, declaring obsolete, and discarding technology at an increasingly rapid pace. But, Upgradia mostly describes a consumer that doesn’t completely throw away their “obsolete” technology, but upgrades it with add-ons and “hacks.” But, while Upgradia culture may have originated with technology, it has permeated the rest of consumer culture.
“How do we make it better?” Tech startups, product developers, and service providers all ask this question. And, you can see this spirit on crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter. People are more than willing to shell out their hard earned bucks to fund “hacker chic” products. Products that fall into the “hacker chic” category enable the consumer to take a normal everyday item and make it a little bit better, or more exciting. We’re talking about things like an onboard motor for your bike that automatically assists with pedaling or a camper that turns a vehicle into the ultimate camper van. The impulse to be able to upgrade any object to avoid spending money on another item is what Upgradia is all about.
This push towards innovations that allow consumers to put off buying a whole new model isn’t just about fun. The motto now is more functionality for less money and less impact on the environment. Consumers are starting to feel the guilt of the negative impact that comes from discarding a perfectly usable product.
Part of this new Upgradia culture is the desire for our products to be connected. We want to take something that is “dumb” and make it smart by connecting the objects around us to the Internet, and therefore to each other. We want our televisions, our cars, our air conditioners, even our toasters to be “smart.” Once an item is connected, it is forever able to upgrade.
Take the Lock8, for example. It’s a keyless, smart-phone enabled bike lock and tracking device. Because of its integrated GPS, the Lock8 can lock your bike straight from your phone or automatically when your phone walks away from your bike. You are also able to track your bike’s whereabouts and are it’s equipped with an alarm. This idea of taking something that is considered “dumb” (a bike lock) and making it “smart” through another object is the next frontier. Look for more and more everyday items to become “smart,” and to therefore have a longer shelf life.
So, what does a world where every item is upgradeable look like? Consumers will expect objects to change and grow with them. That toaster they buy won’t just last a year or two. If it can update and continue to learn new things, it could last for much longer. Of course, let’s not kid ourselves: the desire for the new will never fade but the meaning of ‘new’ is starting to shift. New now means new functionality and capabilities, not necessarily new hardware. Hopefully, this shift will mean less waste and better innovations.