I have two teenage daughters, one in high school, the other a year from entering. Both have been raised with a digital gadget of some type in their hands. At first, they were made by Leapfrog and Mattel and focused on education and dexterity. Later, the children’s mobile device of choice was from Nintendo and delivered gaming and entertainment (“backseat babysitters”). They then moved onto Apple devices, primarily the iPod Touch and borrowed or hand-me-down iPads. And, you know what they say: Once you go app, you’ll never go back.
I stop and think about how they, the pinnacle millennials (born in 1999 and 2001), view technology differently from their parents’ generation. Both they and their parents are gadget-toting online addicts with active social media accounts. The similarities in our perceptions of technology and how we use it far outweigh the differences. But those differences are interesting and worthy of further exploration.
For people of my generation—middle aged geezers too young to have seen The Who at Woodstock, but too old to have fond childhood memories of Gameboy or Hello Kitty—consumer technology still has a decidedly sci-fi feel to it. We indulge frequently in mobile device tapping and social media because it’s simply so amazing to us. We still have the “gee whiz” afterglow. But our kids don’t hold that same amazement—just like how my generation wasn’t amazed by color TV or electric windows in cars when we were teens. To them, these broadband-connected touchscreen gadgets are the norm. They have almost no memories of not living with one on a day-to-day basis.
Another interesting thing I’ve noted is how it is my generation, the middle-aged dorks, who lust most for the latest technology and better whatever. My daughters are more focused on what flows through their devices, not the devices themselves. They suck down Tumblr and Instagram and YouTube using “computers” and home theater equipment with screens ranging in size from 3.5 inches to 60 inches (afforded by cool wireless streaming tech like Apple’s AirPlay and Google’s Chromecast).
When I asked my thirteen-year-old if she would prefer a new iPad Mini or a new iPod Touch, she seemed disinterested in both—like she simply didn’t need to upgrade because everything she wanted was there on her late-generation Touch. When pressed, which device did she choose? The less expensive, not-as-nice Touch. Why? Because it’s more mobile. Her back pocket is the litmus test. The iPad Mini she considers too big. The Touch (or iPhone), for her, is the perfect size. Sometimes even the youngest generations embrace the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality. (For more consideration of smartphone display sizes, see my blog post Smartphone Display Size: Two Perspectives.)
My older daughter, a year or so ago, broke the screen on her iPod Touch. It looked really bad; I couldn’t have used the device for even a day. But she somehow managed with it for several months. To my generation, tech gadgets—especially the best and latest examples—are very much status symbols (just like a sports car, Rolex watch, or expensive dress). And to have a cracked windshield on your BMW would be a shame. Unacceptable even. But to my daughters, all of their friends have either iPod Touches, iPhones, or Android tablets or smartphones. These slick devices aren’t really status symbols to these kids; in their world, everyone is using BMW-grade mobile devices. What matters much more to millennials (at least mine) is the health and vitality of their internet-based social lives, even if they are mostly consuming the communications of others, not necessarily tossing out media themselves.
I’m kind of the opposite. I’d love the latest greatest smartphone or tablet every year. If money grew on trees, I’d always upgrade. It only keeps getting better. But to my daughters, the millennials, the social media that flows through those devices is the real focus. The manner in which they get there—the hardware device in their hands—isn’t nearly as important.
[See also Social Media’s Anti-Socialization Myth.]
Curt Robbins is author of the following books from Amazon Kindle:
- Home Theater for the Internet Age ($9.95)
- Understanding Personal Data Security ($4.99)
- Understanding Home Theater ($4.99)
- Understanding Cutting the Cord ($4.99)
- Understanding Digital Music ($4.99)