Friday, August 2, 2013

Teens Value Unplugging? YYSSW

My ad agency does creative work for a number of colleges, designing campaigns to lure prospective students away from the competition and toward our clients' schools. Our target audience (current high school sophomores, juniors and seniors) is known as the "young millenials" or "Generation Z."

When we present concepts for ads, we always have to remind everyone in the conference room that we (agency and clients alike) are not the people we are talking to. Our audience lives online. (We don't.) They have no interest in turning off or tuning out. (We do.) They are digital slackers. (We aren't — or, at least, if we are, we know it's a really very super bad thing.)

As of today, I stand corrected.

MTV recently released the results of a new study, comparing teens aged 14-17 (at 15 going on 16, my own daughter fits right in there), Generation Y (18-25 years old), Generation X, and Baby Boomers. The surprising conclusion?

The younger millenials are poised to surpass their older demographic siblings in terms of focus and eventual success. They not only see the error of their cyber ways, they are actively seeking analog alternatives.

Get a load of some of this data ...

According to MTV's study (and contrary to the opinion of most parents I know), Generation Z is not living in a fool's paradise. 

60% believe that "my generation will be worse off than my parents' generation."

The same 60% claim that they are "very stressed about getting into a good high school or college."

69% are trying to take control of this bleak forecast. "I put more pressure on myself than others put on me."

How does this affect their online habits? If you're like me (especially if you're like me and have a fifteen year old daughter who appears to be surgically attached to her iPhone), you may be surprised.

80% of this younger teen group say that "sometimes I just need to unplug and enjoy the simple things."

82% "prefer to focus on one task at a time." Whoa. And to think, they've built a reputation for attention span deficiency.

(As an aside, guess what I'm doing even as I write this post? Multitasking! Checking emails, fielding phone calls, planning next week's trip to New York, and brainstorming some alternative headlines for an ad. Note to self: be very careful not to throw stones.)

Here's what I say: YYSSW. (Your teen can tell you that this means "Yeah, yeah, sure, sure, whatever.")

You see, all the studies in the world can be meaningless (from a personal perspective) when they don't jibe with actual experience (from a personal perspective).

From a personal perspective ... I just don't see it.

At any given time, my daughter engages in at least a half dozen different activities at once. She can quite comfortably text, listen to music, browse Facebook, eat a bag of Sun Chips, post to Instagram, and tackle the toughest homework assignment. For the record, the only time she unplugs to "enjoy the simple things" is when her father or I (or both) insists that she does. And, let the record also state, there ain't a whole lot of enjoyment going on when that happens.

Yesterday, my daughter and I brought our new friend, the exchange student who's staying with us this summer, into Cambridge. We treated ourselves to fancy coffee drinks (apparently Frappucinos are an international phenomenon), toured Harvard's historic campus, shopped and shopped and shopped, then went into Boston for dinner and a show. It was a great day, a long day, an analog day. So, what was my daughter doing each and every time the conversation lagged?


Don't get me wrong. She wasn't rude or unkind. I think she's been a terrific host, actually. But, there are always natural silences and these proved to be irresistible opportunities to check the phone. After many evil eyes (on my part) and many exasperated shrugs (on her part), I finally gave up on the drive back at the end of the night.

"Here, you can use mine," I told our lovely guest and handed her my phone. She was just as happy as my daughter would have been had someone else's mother done this for her.

New friends, the two girls sat together, fingers skipping across their digital screens, quite happily, the rest of the way home.

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