Blame It on the Youth

If you want to know where the future is headed, sometimes telling clues reside in how the youth of the world interact and share with one another.

With the rise of the Golden Triangle of technology, mobile, social, and real-time, technology is not just for the geeks, technology is part of our lifestyle…it is part of who we are. However, as we are all coming to learn, it’s not in what we have, it’s in how we use it that says everything about us.  In the way we use technology, whether it’s hardware or social networks for example, the differences are are striking.

But something disruptive, this way comes. And the truth is, it’s been a long time coming. How we consume information is moving away from the paper we hold in our hands and also the inner sanctum of family, the living rooms where we huddle around televisions. In fact, Forrester Research recently published a report that documented, for the first time, we spend as much time online as we do in front of a television. Indeed the battle for your attention will materialize across the four screens, TV, PC, mobile, and tablets.

Sometimes however, generations collide and such is the case with social networks. While the boomers were storming Facebook to stay connected to loved ones, young adults were expanding their digital horizons. Even though text messaging dominates the attention and thumbs of younger adults, the Internet is also competing for the remainder of their time. In fact, its dominance is brooding.

eMarketer recently published a report estimating that in 2011, 20.2 million children under 11 will go online at least once per month from any location. Representing 39.9% of this age group, this number is up from 15.6 million in 2008. In four short years though, online savvy children under 11 will rise to 24.9 million, which represents almost half of this young population at 47.8%.

With virtual worlds and social networks attracting younger and younger audiences, this number may very well only represent a conservative estimate at best.

Growing Up in a Digital Utopia

Certainly every new generation experiences a revolution that alters behavior from the previous way of life. This usually begets stories at some point in life that sound a bit like this, “You kids…you have it so easy. In my day, we used to…”

Perhaps one of the reasons I believe that the estimates are low for online permeation across younger demographics comes down to rapid evolution of technology and its impact on culture and society. As we’re influenced by technology, peers, and society at large, the Golden Triangle is where each of the three influences will source its effect. Let’s take a look at what’s hot, right now…

1. Social Networks

2. Mobile phones and geo location

3. Tablets

Perhaps what’s most interesting is the fusion of all of the above. See, we become the centerpiece in a production that unfolds around us. And at the same time, society evolves through the coalescence of collective consciousness and movement. We move in parallel and yet, we march to the beat of our own drummer.

The future lies in the hands of our youth as steered by those who earn the prestigious and privileged regard as mentor. As a father, I’m very well aware of Facebook’s minimum age requirement of 13. However, my children, at ages 14 and 11, not only possess a Facebook profile and have for quite some time, they are also very well connected to friends and family and digitally established in their own right. The peer pressure to live online hit a tipping point where, as parents, we made a thoughtful decision to enable the inevitable. As we see with businesses investing in systems for training and establishing guidelines and governance, we too are helping our children better understand the brave new world that, in some cases, they know better than us.

Again, our youth will take to the internet in droves, far greater than we imagine and the device used to engage isn’t always going to be a PC. As evidenced by other data I examined, perhaps we can’t just “blame it on the youth.” Perchance the blame falls upon zealous parents who thrust their children into living a life online before they can say otherwise. While innocent in nature, the reality is that as kids grow up, they will have presences to manage earlier, for different reasons, than any of us have faced.

A recent study by security company AVG and Research Now surveyed  2,200 mothers in North America (USA and Canada), the EU5 (UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain), Australia/New Zealand and Japan, and found that 81 percent of children under the age of two currently have some kind of digital profile or footprint, with images of them posted online. 92 percent of U.S. children have an online presence created for them by the time they are 2 years old. In many cases, a digital presence is born before the child, with sonograms (23%) actively published and shared on social networks and blogs.

A 600-plus million strong network yes, but Facebook is but only one of the hundreds of digital islands where we maintain part-time residences. YouTube, gaming networks, specialized nicheworks, and chatrooms are also primary attention traps for our youth and adults alike.

The skyline for the attention of our youth and all of humanity is under construction and is under constant transformation. The difference now, is that we’re marching towards a new direction. While the destination is elusive, the panoramas we experience in our journey teach us skills that help us steer experiences.


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  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    The youth are our future and they are leading the way for use to socialize on a brand new plate form.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • http://twitter.com/SchwartzMS Michael S. Schwartz

    Very interesting post Brian. It astounds me how people are getting on social media younger and younger. Its even more interesting to see the way they’re using it. They’re faster and “friendlier” than anybody. Whenever I engage my younger relatives on Facebook, I find their updates get far more attention than anything I post.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      Hello Michael, yes…yes indeed. We have much to learn, not just how this impacts us, but how it changes everything.

    • http://www.pammarketingnut.com PamMktgNut

      Michael – Interesting you bring this up. I see the same thing with my nieces and nephews. I am starting to also see a few of them quickly realize the power of the medium. They’re using it for social good, breast cancer awareness. They get an immediate and powerful response from multiple generations. I can’t wait to see what some of them do with such abilities as they grow older.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dave-Allen/1110152144 Dave Allen

    Brian, having had three children grow up and move through my house and on to college in the last 20 years, all of whom are the epitome of digital youth, I had a living, digital laboratory every day. Their actions in a digital universe were very interesting and I found the info very useful when I applied it to my various “digital” positions. Of equal importance was their access to a vast library of books, magazines and vinyl records at home. Also, socializing around the dining table with many of the rock bands who spent nights (or sometimes over-stayed for weeks) at our home in Los Angeles, they tell me now, was an amazing experience for them growing up.

    My point here, is that a well-rounded upbringing mixed with a large amount of independence and an exposure to people, other cultures, travel, education..I could go on, serves young people really well. And as always, youth leads the way to change. Think Elvis Presley, The Beatles, Jack Kerouac and the Beats, a young Marlon Brando, James Dean, Robert DeNiro, and punk rock.. Counter-culture and rebelliousness are youth.

    Parents are not supposed to be included in a young person’s life after a certain time. And that’s the point of rebelling and being independent. If this is going on, as you write – “Perchance the blame falls upon zealous parents who thrust their children into living a life online before they can say otherwise.” I would say that it is a disaster for future society. Helicopter parents following their children’s every move online sounds like a nightmare.

    The result will be non-curious, non-inquisitive generations of youth all homogenized via “social” media, which is anything but social. It all points to the utter redundancy of social media over the long haul. I’m really glad that my children today, consider Facebook a joke and have changed their identities to hopefully avoid too much data being shared amongst prospective employers and others, about their very young past, lives.

    Youth is the future. Why do adults want to corrupt it right out of the gate? Remember, rebelling is all about doing the opposite of what your parents did. We should take note of when a youth exodus from social networks begins, as they return to the privacy of texting with their friends. Their real friends.

  • http://twitter.com/MistOne Hasan Luongo

    v interesting article – but having a picture posted online does not constitute an “online presence” so the quote in your tweet “92% of US children have an online presence created for them by the time they are 2 years old” is very farfetched. I highly doubt .001% of kids under two have any personal “online presence” at all.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      The quote is meant to highlight that children have an unintentional
      presence online whether that be in the form of a shared picture or
      even a sonogram to an online invitation announcing the birth or a
      party to a profile or website created for them by a family member.
      Their name or picture is online before they have a say in the matter.

    • Rosie Zaldatte

      Sweet!

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  • http://website-in-a-weekend.net/ Dave Doolin

    I’m really curious how this is going to play out with what was called (a couple of years ago) the “attention crash.”

    Perhaps being able to “pay attention” becomes like privacy or leisure time, something available to the very rich or very poor.

    How will people, who are now growing up with multiple competing demands on their attention, function in tomorrow’s society? Their society? How will people who didn’t grow up in it function?

    The novels of Iain M. Banks paint an interesting picture of a culture (The Culture!) where attention is, essentially, currency. We’re part of the way there. From my youth where starving children had no shoes, we’re in a world where Bill Gates or any one of a dozen wealthy people could cut a check and put custom made shoes on every foot in the world. Even more interesting, society may survive a “jobless” recovery… but what if these connected children grow up into a jobless economy?

    I wonder what’s to happen to people who simply want to be peacefully left alone. If they aren’t providing entertainment in someone’s “value chain,” are they invisible? Will they starve?

  • http://www.pammarketingnut.com PamMktgNut

    I have thought of this as well with my kids. Both under 10 they have numerous photos posted on our Facebook pages, videos on YouTube etc.

    I recently posted to Twitter a funny door sign my 7 yr old drew when he was in trouble & mad. Within minutes it had over 100 views on Twitter. Immediately his natural instinct was to draw a better one, have mom tweet it and get move views.

    Since then he has become aware on his own how powerful the medium is. He and his brother discuss who has the most views of their funny videos & the list goes on. Note, this is not behavior we are pushing on them. It is the instant gratification they like. They like being able to create, share, make people laugh.

    However, on the flip side they are also very aware of the power of the negative. If I take a picture of them I recv immediate unsolicited advice as to if it should or should not be posted to Facebook. They know they have a presence online and they know they can’t control it. To be honest I don’t think they like it.

    It’s also disheartening to see that many parents who behave poorly online or offline and share such behavior, weekend photos etc. are also negatively impacting their children. In our tight neighborhood most folks are on Facebook. This includes the teachers, parents, high school kids etc. A parents weekend lifestyle decisions can easily wind up a topic of discussion on the playground. Often times my elementary school aged kids know more about what’s going on with other parents than we do, thanks to Facebook.

    I think parents need to recognize that our actions may in fact have lasting impact on our youth beyond what we realize now.

    Great post as usual Brian! Love your work.

    Pam

  • Brooke Palm

    Brian – I really don’t like the fact that your 11 is on Facebook even though their minimum age is 13. First, you’ve taught your child to cheat. The rules do not apply to them. Second, to lie. A birthdate has to be entered and so they had to put in a false birthday. These are terrible life lessons. It shouldn’t make any difference if their friends have an account or not.

    I’m the mother of an 11 year old and she is just appalled that some of her friends have accounts.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  • http://www.ann-sense.com/ Ann Marie van den Hurk, APR

    Superb blog post… As a tech-savvy Mom, my four-old son has grown up with iPhones and iPads. He’s been using an iPhone since he was one. I embrace technology and encourage him to do the same. All that said, he still prefers “real” books over anything on the iPad… As do I.

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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_5HOMILPIGRVNFCNFKDWS55FX3U Robert Sanchez

    Hi Brian, I enjoyed your posting and found it quite interesting. While social networking has become a way of life for many, it is still a challenge for many people around the world who do not have access to more advanced devices. You may be interested in my company, Cherple. This patent-pending technology enables consumers to connect with family, friends, and colleagues in a familiar social netowrking setting. Cherple.com allows parents to connect with their children regardless of their phone capabilities, making it easier for both parties to stay in touch. The beauty is the fact that Cherple works with any phone (smart or otherwise) allowing users to connect to share photos, videos and music to loved ones around the world. I encourage you to check it out and pass it on if you feel it’s a good fit for your followers. Thanks for the read!

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  • http://www.VivaVisibilityBlog.com NancyMarmolejo

    Great post! And I really like Dave Allen’s response on the well rounded upbringing.

    I’m a tech savvy mom who has no desire for my kid to be thrust into the social media/texting world. If you consider a digital footprint kid pics on Facebook, then yes she has that. But I’m cautiously limiting screen time, access to handheld devices, and other things that keep kids from running around outside, throwing dirt around, and living life. We need to consider the long term effects (attention span, being sedentary, experiencing stress and trauma around one’s private life going extremely public, etc) when looking at this.

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  • http://twitter.com/smotoolkit Sydney Shore

    I totally agree that technology has not only become a lifestyle but has defined us, thanks to social media. When it comes to children, I really agree to what most people said here that it will be up to the parent’s upbringing of their children that would help in making the younger generation understand the advantages and the risks of engaging in social media at a very young age. I think that somehow, even though, in the coming years, technology will take over the traditional lifestyle, it is still better to raise our children that would not have them depend too much on gadgets.

  • John Cass

    Brian, A thoughtful post. I was just thinking that your post highlights something about the US and twenty-first century life when it comes to cultural expectations of the young. There’s a cultural meme that the young are always more aware of the latest technologies, and by implication advanced! Yet, if parents, friends and relatives introduce new technologies to ever younger kids, maybe the reality is that older people have hope and expectations for the young. The young will adopt and use the technologies more easily. But as non-digital natives, and first generation to experience the new technologies, are we really the generation with the advantage? We had to learn the ropes, and also had the experience with the past, and as a result our wonder may be greater than natives who grew up the net being the reality of their lives.

    • http://www.briansolis.com briansolis

      John, what a wonderful comment. I couldn’t agree with you more. All sides bring something to the table. Those with an open mind can piece everything together in a more meaningful and useful way.

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  • http://www.webemphasis.com/costume-website-design Boutique Website Design

    Hi,I am amused by your blog,Your blog is a true source of knowledge and I am glad to read it. Your blog contains the real essence of you efforts on US Internet Users, keep writing such meaningful blogs with such great gist.

  • http://twitter.com/davidhargreaves dhargreaves

    Another great post. Maybe the perfect Golden Triangle business is Facebook Deals? It combines social (a mere 700 million users – almost), mobile (according to Facebook “hundreds of millions of people access Facebook from their mobile) and real time (get a discount if you buy in the next 12 minutes). If GrouponNow gets its social integration and mobile app right you can see how a business that has thrived on “time bound” deals could command its fairly hefty valuation

    There must be lots of other golden triangle businesses and opportunities out there. It is a good model for trying to think of a killer business. I owe you a share if I think of one!

  • Rochelleshapirokanoff

    Great article, Brian. As a former managing editor and director of production of scores of magazines over the years, I love paper–editing an article with a red pencil, routing a hard copy, and holding a magazine hot-off-the-press–but that was the old me. I’m working hard to move into a paperless world and fighting the urge to hit print. Your article stirred up a lot of memories and “in my day stories.” I remember when I was very young in the mid ‘60s watching the Flintstones on our first color TV and my parents would talk about huddling around the radio when they were growing up. I liken it to telling my teenage sons about my college days when I sat in the library basement scrolling through microfiche, that I checked out from the librarian, gathering information for an article or a paper. All they have to do is type a few words, using their laptops, phones, or iPads, hit search, and voila they have access to a wealth of research from around the world. They may take the process for granted, but I appreciate it. It’s a real digital utopia! @rockieshapiro

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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