For the past 9 years I have overseen and managed our Generation X and Y research at Creative Strategies mostly from a technology usage and adaption standpoint. Many of our clients in the high tech industry from companies that make computers, to mobile devices to TV’s have requested my research as they seek to understand this demographic that is highly technical and demands things from their electronics that other generations can’t imagine.
Just about 3 years ago many of our clients started to understand that they had to begin building products that met the needs of the most technological generation. It is challenging to constantly push the innovation envelope especially with a demographic that doesn’t stay impressed with innovations for long but is instead constantly searching for the latest and greatest technology. This stands as a challenge in the face of companies who primarily followed a model of innovating every 18 to 24 month’s not every 6 months. This challenge still remains however one thing has become abundantly clear from my research in this space. This generation communicates unlike any seen previously.
About 4 years ago we really started to see texting find its groove with a lot of the youth we were observing. Today the average teen sends and receives about 2,800 texts a month. Among our group of young trendsetters this was about the average for them 4 years ago. One girl in fact had a Nokia device she had for 6 months and the numbers on the keys were completely rubbed off from such heavy texting.
Now the fact that this was happening was interesting as we were seeing social habits and behaviors changing but I was very interested into the psychological reason why this demographic preferred to communicate this way as opposed to talking on the phone.
Several interesting things came out of my work in this area.
When a demographic grows up exposed to heavy amounts of multi media they develop the capability to process large amounts of information very quickly.
This means kids who watched a lot of TV growing up, played video games, etc developed a mental capability to process things quickly. This assisted in attention deficit disorder and boredom from a lack of mental stimulation but also gave them the ability to multitask extremely well. My most compelling conclusion from this observation is that when they talk on the phone they have to focus on talking to one person at one time. However when they text they can talk to many people at one time. Not only that but the conversation can go on all day.
Now many sociologists fear that this is harming their actual social and conversation skills however I argue it is strengthening them. Not one of the large number of kids we have observed doing massive amounts of texting is a social misfit or outcast. As a matter of fact many of them are quite popular. By leveraging a new communication medium such as text messaging, a new skill around managing conversations and the people those conversation are with will be an asset in the work force. Furthermore a recent article in the New York Times highlighted a trend we observed as well which was this demographic regularly “hugged” as a form of saying hello. We saw kids hug when they first saw each other at school or at the mall. We basically observed the vast majority of them hug when they saw each other again after a prolonged time of not seeing each other.
If their actual physical social interactions were being harmed why would they be so quick to physically embrace upon first physical contact for the day? I would argue text messaging is strengthening their relationships due to how much they know about each other throughout the day without having to actually see them face to face.
I can sum it up with some lessons I learned doing research for Microsoft for XBOX Live before the service started. We came away observing that this demographic desires to go through life together even when they are not physically together. Any communication medium that allows them to stay connected to their social groups while not physically being together will be utilized.
When asked if they prefer to text their friends or actually hang out with them unanimously they preferred to hang out face to face however the desire was to hang out as a group more then just hang out one on one. This demographic all though capable of one on one social interaction prefers a group setting.
One thing we know about humans is that they are social beings. I do not believe that this demographic is moving away from that core human desire. They are however finding technologies that allow them to enhance this social nature and are seeking out new ways of socializing. Technology I believe will add to and enhance our core desire of humans to socialize and communicate.
Text messaging and social networks are the just the beginning.