April 30, 2004
About 15 years ago, we began to hear about children who helped their
parents with new technologies. They were the ones who knew how to
program the VCR, get onto the Internet, and troubleshoot the computer.
It was a cliché, but a meaningful one that marked two shifts in the
way technology was being integrated into our lives. The first is that
children were getting their hands on new technologies. Before, they had
intermediaries standing between them and a new device, slapping their
hands away and warning them that they'd lose an eye if they touched it.
Now, not only were they using computers without grownups, they were
adapting faster to them than their parents. They could figure computers
out more easily, were more flexible in the face of rapid change, and
more willing to just play around with a device — and hence really learn
how it works.
Kids are a big market for today's technologies. Adolescents are major
consumers of cell phones, users of instant messaging, patrons of
Playstation. But their importance goes beyond simple numbers. They're
also fanatical consumers: teen gamers do more research on new games
than adults do when buying a new car. They're harsh critics: visit any
game or computer discussion board, and see for yourself just how
detailed their criticism can be.
Finally, and most importantly, they're serious social innovators:
they're much less likely to follow the manual, and much more likely to
invent new ways of using technologies, or build entire subcultures
around them. Teens turned cell phones from business tools into pieces
of youth culture. They've driven the growth of instant messaging and
SMS. And they've flocked to blogs. They're not just early adopters.
They're early adapters, too.
Of course, today's kids are tomorrow's consumers. New products will be
created to serve their preferences; new skills will be exploited by the
next generation of devices; and new services will be sold to support
their lifestyles. But today, even really small children – the Sesame
Street and Disney Princess set – are interacting with technologies, and
developing some powerful assumptions about technology and media.
Posted by Red Herring at April 30, 2004 09:25 AM