If you want to know where the future is headed, sometimes telling clues reside in how the youth of the world interact and share with one another.
With the rise of the Golden Triangle of technology, mobile, social, and real-time, technology is not just for the geeks, technology is part of our lifestyle…it is part of who we are. However, as we are all coming to learn, it’s not in what we have, it’s in how we use it that says everything about us. In the way we use technology, whether it’s hardware or social networks for example, the differences are are striking.
But something disruptive, this way comes. And the truth is, it’s been a long time coming. How we consume information is moving away from the paper we hold in our hands and also the inner sanctum of family, the living rooms where we huddle around televisions. In fact, Forrester Research recently published a report that documented, for the first time, we spend as much time online as we do in front of a television. Indeed the battle for your attention will materialize across the four screens, TV, PC, mobile, and tablets.
Sometimes however, generations collide and such is the case with social networks. While the boomers were storming Facebook to stay connected to loved ones, young adults were expanding their digital horizons. Even though text messaging dominates the attention and thumbs of younger adults, the Internet is also competing for the remainder of their time. In fact, its dominance is brooding.
eMarketer recently published a report estimating that in 2011, 20.2 million children under 11 will go online at least once per month from any location. Representing 39.9% of this age group, this number is up from 15.6 million in 2008. In four short years though, online savvy children under 11 will rise to 24.9 million, which represents almost half of this young population at 47.8%.
With virtual worlds and social networks attracting younger and younger audiences, this number may very well only represent a conservative estimate at best.
Growing Up in a Digital Utopia
Certainly every new generation experiences a revolution that alters behavior from the previous way of life. This usually begets stories at some point in life that sound a bit like this, “You kids…you have it so easy. In my day, we used to…”
Perhaps one of the reasons I believe that the estimates are low for online permeation across younger demographics comes down to rapid evolution of technology and its impact on culture and society. As we’re influenced by technology, peers, and society at large, the Golden Triangle is where each of the three influences will source its effect. Let’s take a look at what’s hot, right now…
1. Social Networks
2. Mobile phones and geo location
Perhaps what’s most interesting is the fusion of all of the above. See, we become the centerpiece in a production that unfolds around us. And at the same time, society evolves through the coalescence of collective consciousness and movement. We move in parallel and yet, we march to the beat of our own drummer.
The future lies in the hands of our youth as steered by those who earn the prestigious and privileged regard as mentor. As a father, I’m very well aware of Facebook’s minimum age requirement of 13. However, my children, at ages 14 and 11, not only possess a Facebook profile and have for quite some time, they are also very well connected to friends and family and digitally established in their own right. The peer pressure to live online hit a tipping point where, as parents, we made a thoughtful decision to enable the inevitable. As we see with businesses investing in systems for training and establishing guidelines and governance, we too are helping our children better understand the brave new world that, in some cases, they know better than us.
Again, our youth will take to the internet in droves, far greater than we imagine and the device used to engage isn’t always going to be a PC. As evidenced by other data I examined, perhaps we can’t just “blame it on the youth.” Perchance the blame falls upon zealous parents who thrust their children into living a life online before they can say otherwise. While innocent in nature, the reality is that as kids grow up, they will have presences to manage earlier, for different reasons, than any of us have faced.
A recent study by security company AVG and Research Now surveyed 2,200 mothers in North America (USA and Canada), the EU5 (UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain), Australia/New Zealand and Japan, and found that 81 percent of children under the age of two currently have some kind of digital profile or footprint, with images of them posted online. 92 percent of U.S. children have an online presence created for them by the time they are 2 years old. In many cases, a digital presence is born before the child, with sonograms (23%) actively published and shared on social networks and blogs.
A 600-plus million strong network yes, but Facebook is but only one of the hundreds of digital islands where we maintain part-time residences. YouTube, gaming networks, specialized nicheworks, and chatrooms are also primary attention traps for our youth and adults alike.
The skyline for the attention of our youth and all of humanity is under construction and is under constant transformation. The difference now, is that we’re marching towards a new direction. While the destination is elusive, the panoramas we experience in our journey teach us skills that help us steer experiences.