Technology, it seems, is not isolating teens from each other but quite the opposite: multiplying the number of connections and bonds they make to create a generation of “SuperConnectors”.
A research report published by advertising agency Energy BBDO (nothing sighted on their website yet) concludes that, according to marketing news website ClickZ Stats, “56% percent of teens age 13-18 are SuperConnectors”. This group uses multiple means of connectivity of what the report calls “lean-forward mechanisms” — not a term I’d heard before, I must confess — such as cell phones, text messaging, the Internet, e-mail, instant messaging and search engines.
The important thing here is they’re using these tools to connect, not to cut themselves off (although parents might disagree). The report says that, contrary to popular perception that teenagers are hiding in their rooms playing games and hiding from each other, “friendships within a teen’s network spreads out over the Web and other enabled devices.” This means, in short, that teens are doing what we used to do, but are just doing it faster, better, and more broadly. “They are still doing many of the same types of activities that they used to do, for example, passing a note in class. Now, they can text several people at the same time,” the ClickZ piece quotes Chip Walker, EVP and director of account planning at Energy BBDO, as saying. “The underlying urges are the same, what technology has done is allow them to be taken to a new level.”
Given I managed to only keep note-enabled discussions with two people going at any one time before getting very confused (and caught by our English teacher Mr. Tolkien), this suggests all sorts of new skills. This, indeed, is another side of multitasking we tend to forget about. It’s not just about doing different things at once, but doing the same thing with lots of different people at once. I can well understand that this may not be considered a good thing — given the paranoia teens are prone to, I can only imagine the fear and suspicion that must permeate a classroom seeing all the under-desk texting, vibrating and muted beep-beeps going on at any given time. But in a positive sense, perhaps all this is useful training for the kind of world we older folk are already a part of but woefully underprepared for. Perhaps multitasking should be a course kids actually take to prepare themselves for the kind of jobs we are now struggling to master.
Of course, this report being commissioned by an advertising agency, the main thrust of the piece is about how to reach these teens. SuperConnectors, we’re told, “are resistant to traditional advertising messages.” Instead, the report suggests trying to use approaches that “allow teens to communicate with each other and personalize what they’re receiving.” This is interesting stuff. I can see several ideas popping out of this: One might be to assume that with teens everything is ephemeral and temporary, so websites and services that pop up should be designed to be only temporary. So, networking sites should just be designed to last only a few months, and then be replaced by something else that would seem wild and new to the user — even if it’s just the same old thing from the same old company with a fancy new name, a new design and some extra gimmicks or features.
The other element must be standards to allow users to easily transfer their stuff — settings, connections, photos, messages, whatever — between these “pico networks”. Another option could be ensuring these networking sites and services could allow third party add-ons and user mash-ups so teens could adapt and personalize their virtual networks. In any case, the good news seems to be that teens may actually be using technology in a healthier way than we oldies are.