Kids today
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