I like to collect things.

Throughout my entire life, I have always had some sort of collection going.  It started with comic books and Matchbox cars, then model rockets, then tropical fish, then action figures, then guitars, then mexican art, then books, then Harley Davidson t-shirts, the list goes on and on.

You see, much like squirrels instinctively hoard nuts and berries for the winter, humans have these instinctive, primal urges hard coded into our brains too. With us, however, it is a little more complex.

With the advent of 24 hour grocery stores and electricity, somewhere down the line, we stopped NEEDING to hunt and gather to survive, or collect pelts or the skulls of our enemies.

Somehow, we managed to transfer these fixations, with just as much fervor, to amassing storage sheds full of useless Beanie Babies or shanking some old lady in the check out over a pack of those stupid rubber bands that snap back into the shape of animals, or… the thrill of the hunt for a $2 Black Friday Waffle Iron at Walmart.

Why? For survival of course… life and death kind of stuff right? Actually, depending on which school of psychology you subscribe to, it is just that.

You see, collecting is a VERY addictive chemical dependency. It triggers the goal seeking and achievement chemicals in our brains that make us happy. The more we collect, the more we need more. With every new addition to the collection, we receive that little dopamine hit, just like nicotine or a heroine dose or an orgasm. It’s the same thing.

Dopamine is the mother of all crack and it is what humans live for. Seriously.  Why?

The Need to Collect

Before you freak out and run off to confession or rehab (or Walmart), you have to realize that we need this behavior to some extent to survive.  The simple act of setting and achieving goals are what triggers these same chemicals, but without this process, our lives would seem to have no purpose.  We would feel incomplete. We get depressed and try to kill ourselves with a waffle iron.

Some people collect stamps and stickers, some people collect virtual farms, and others collect life changing achievements and experiences.  It’s made up of the same stuff.

Collecting is a game we play with ourselves. Collecting is fun, collecting is work, and therefore, work = fun. If you are not working towards a goal, then you aren’t having fun.

Collecting is a simple form of achieving goals and this gives our lives value and purpose, regardless of the size, actual value or relevance of the objects of our desire.

The New VALUE of Collections

Not only do we collect real items and experiences, but more recently, people have started collecting “things” on the internet.

On Facebook and Twitter we collect friends. On deviantART, users build collections of their favorite art work.  On Foursquare, people collect and compete for badges and mayorship for their favorite locations. In Farmville or World of Warcraft players collect any number of rare digital items which can have exchangeable, monetary value in the real world.


On Pinterest (oh how I love you Pinterest…) people are starting to collect images and links to pretty much everything they like on the internet. Art, food, fashion, LOLcats, books, porn, you name it. PRODUCTS. They share these collections with other collectors and it is fun to discover what people like.

In otherwords, Pinterest is a HUGE collection of data on what people like to collect and what makes this the holy grail for marketers is because people provide this data naturally, willingly and enjoy it.  You don’t need to explicitly ask anymore what people like in a survey or an obnoxious advertisement, because if you watch the collectors and follow their behavior, they will tell you.  Happily. Implicitly.

I have seen the new crack of the future, and it’s dealer is Pinterest.

Don’t Believe Me?

My cousin just wrote on Facebook that she went to Ikea today because looking at Pinterest made her want to go. That is POWER my friends.

What do you collect?

Leave a comment and let me know. I collect comments too… or maybe just leave me your pinterest ID and i’ll go see for myself?

Side Note Obviously this is not a discussion of right or wrong, i’m just trying to point out some basic facts on human behavior as it applies to marketing and tech. I personally would recommend collecting life changing achievements and experiences, but if your trip is old newspapers or ceramic chickens… well, you GO!

Sean Earley

Sean Earley is an American digital consultant, podcast host, speaker, publisher & music producer. He advises Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs and organizations on innovation, new technology, strategy, communications, marketing & design. He is the host of several podcasts and makes regular appearances on international media platforms where he discusses the latest trends in technology, culture, business and politics.