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.
Red Herring at April 30, 2004 09:25 AM