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Why 'Eclipse,' iPhone fans love waiting in line

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN
  • "Twilight" crowds have echoes of Beatlemania, the fan frenzy of the 1960s
  • "Twilight" events help make the stories more real and create shared experiences
  • Waiting in line for products creates experiences that help people feel better about buying

(CNN) -- Nicole Carlotti already has her ticket to the midnight showing of "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," but she can't wait to get to the theater three hours ahead of time so she can talk about the movie with other fans.

"Sometimes you overhear conversations of people sitting in line next to you, so you kind of like, discuss with them as well. Everybody is just so excited," said Carlotti, whose 23rd birthday coincides with the opening of the film.

"I just want to talk about it and make the experience last as long as possible."

"Twilight" series fans like Carlotti are gearing up to crowd movie theaters across the U.S. just days after iPhone 4 buyers lined up by the thousands at Apple stores, some even camping out overnight to be one of the first with the new gadget. In July, some 125,000 people will attend Comic-Con, a convention that revolves around waiting in line with everyone else to glimpse celebrities and -- if you're lucky -- hear them talk about upcoming movies and TV shows.

What's with all the frenzy? Psychologists and marketing specialists say it's about connecting over a shared experience, becoming a part of something greater than yourself and the thrill of expecting an event.

The 'Twilight' phenomenon

People want to participate in "Twilight"-related events because they want to get closer to the story, its mythology and surrounding emotions, said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist and professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, California.

"We attach to these great myths because it gives our lives a sense of being bigger than what it is," she said.

The "Twilight" series has captured the imagination of countless readers and movie-goers, and going to the events with other people heightens the emotional experience, she said. Being part of large crowds outside the movie theater brings the story of the series closer to fans.

"Twilight" crowds have echoes of Beatlemania, the fan frenzy of the 1960s around the Beatles, she said.

Carlotti said "Twilight" events help make the stories more real.

"If you are an avid reader of the book, it's like seeing your favorite characters come to life," she said.

The thrill of buying

This frenzy around buying, however, is somewhat different, according to Yarrow. People who wait in line for a good seat to "Eclipse" are bringing a story closer to them; for the iPhone, it's about being the first among your friends to have a coveted product, Yarrow said.

People who camped out, or sat in lawn chairs, or got sunburned waiting for hours for the iPhone 4 have turned purchasing a product into an experience, said behavioral psychologist Matt Wallaert, the co-founder of Churnless, a digital strategy and production company.

Research shows that experiences bring people greater happiness than material possessions, partly because the thrill of buying something new wears pretty fast, whereas the memories of an experience last much longer. But by joining a crowd of thousands for hours on end just to buy a particular product, the purchase takes on a new meaning, Wallaert said.

People are also more likeable to others when they talk about experiences rather than purchases, studies have shown. It stands to reason, then, that when people talk about the experience of waiting in line for the iPhone, they gain more empathy from others than merely bragging about the product, Wallaert said.

The waiting also helps justify the purchase to the buyer -- making it seem like he or she earned the product, he said.

"When we suffer for something, our brain goes, 'Wow, I really suffered hard for this, I must really want it,' " he said.

Hype about a product such as the iPhone is also self-perpetuating: Hearing that people are waiting in line for hours to get a product can make others want it more, said James Mol, psychologist at Providence Portland Medical Center in Portland, Oregon.

The limited availability of certain products -- the iPhone now, Furbies in 1998, Tickle Me Elmo in 1996 -- gives them an extra allure that increases the value of the product, Yarrow said. If you have a hot product to show off to your friends, it gives you "a few brief moments of being a celebrity," Yarrow said.

Another possible reason people seek to share these types of experiences is that as technology disconnects people -- with social networking sites, e-mail, text and instant message replacing face time -- those with common interests look for opportunities to be together, Yarrow said.

But the internet also brings people together, and shared cultural experiences are not unique to recent decades, Wallaert said.

Events around popular culture can lead to lasting friendships -- Carlotti met a girl at an event for the "Breaking Dawn" book launch nearly two years ago. They discovered they share a passion for "Twilight" and "Harry Potter," and have since met to discuss the books they read.

"I'll probably call her and e-mail her tomorrow to see what she thought of the movie and stuff," Carlotti said.