Teens and the internet

From a talk I did to external partners for the social change programme

I thought I’d begin the session by trying to frame some of the debates that we think are pertinent to all our work in, for want of a better phrase, ‘the knowledge economy’. We all deal with audiences. Some call audiences clients, or customers, or even users (pundits!). We tend to use ‘student’ – though it sometimes feels that even that terminology is under threat!

  • Who are those to whom our information is addressed?
  • How is the way they are dealing with information changing?
  • Are those changes significant in the ways we might design our interactions with them?

I’m not exactly sure who your audiences are or what strategies you use to work with them in terms of information. But in trying to think of common experience, of a common group – and really a significant group in many ways when we think of ‘change’, I thought I’d concentrate on the ‘teenagers/young adults’. And I’m thinking of the age group 12-24 here.

What then do we know about the behaviour of this group when it comes to accessing information?

My own observations have been been culled from a number of recent publications:

Two questions to keep in mind:

  1. What are those behaviours that teens/young people will abandon as they grow older and what are those that they will take into adult life?
  2. What implications does this have for our understandings of the nature of communication in the future? How can we best communicate? What skills do we have to engage with?

So, from these recent surveys it’s clear that the average 12-24 year-old:

1 never reads an off-line newspaper

2 will read off-line magazines

30 years ago teens/young people didn’t read newspapers either but started to do so when they were in their 20s and 30s and it became a habit. Today, they don’t read newspapers and the likelihood is that they never will.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t interested in news – they are arguably more interested in news now than they have been in a long time. They are just not going to offline newspapers – they are going online. This doesn’t mean the newspaper is dead – there are great opportunities for offline newspapers online.

3 will never own a landline phone and probably won’t make the distinction between mobiles and landlines (and may never wear a watch – apart from as a fashion accessory)

4 won’t watch tv on sombody else’s schedule for much longer (and barely understands that concept at the moment)

5 trusts unknown peers more than experts (may grow out of this one when the stakes become much higher in their 30s) thinking that a peer is less likely to have an ‘agenda’ than an expert. May be right but not always – spammers and predators do exist (though not as much as we are led to believe by DOPA).

6 has started to pay for digital content. From 2000-2005 there was no interest in paying. Digital goods (not books etc on Amazon) on the internet had to be free. This changed in 2005 because of the panics about prosecution, the use of spyware and the introduction of iTunes. Attitudes began to change.

7 shows little interest in the source of information online. Even though Google or Yahoo tells you where the info comes from they don’t pay attention to it. Information is a commodity and it seems they are not taught to be interested in the source

8 knows that community is at the centre of everything. It’s the one thing that pulls more than checking email. It frames internet experience – it’s what you do when you log on. To almost 50% of pop surveyed, their online communities (the lives they build online) were as important as their offline communities (the lives they build offline). How do they move through communities? – Like nightclubs? From MySpace to Facebook – and the cool kids move on …

The average 16-24 year old in the UK has 49 friends (7 close and 16 online friends they have never met), has 86 buddies on IM list and is a member of three online social networks.

9 don’t think they are effected by advertising or brand – they think they are too shrewd for it to work on them. But we know that they are wrong – branding and advertising affects us all to an enormous extent – we’re not immune.

10 is moving to mobile – the teens understand this and prepare for it: paying for things on a mobile, using GPS, booking tickets etc.

Almost half the population of the globe now has a mobile phone. The internet is growing but it’s not growing as fast as that.

11 is less interested in television than any generation before. TV’s important but it doesn’t dominate theirlives as it dominated ours. TV is one option among many.

12 wants to move content from platform to platform irrespective of the barriers that people want to put in their way. This is the battle with DRM and it will be the battle with social networks.

13 wants to be heard – and produces content. Not 15 minutes of fame but 15 megabytes of fame … which can last forever.

14 thinks email is something used to send a thank you letter to aunts and uncles. Instant messaging is the way teens communicate.


The report found that

  • involvement in online communities leads to offline action
  • participation in online communities leads to social activism

Broadcast mass media WILL survive but as much smaller businesses with a greatly reduced influence.

Films – massive reduction since the 1940s/1950s – it drives dvds.

Music business has greatly reduced though interest in music is increasing. We listen to more music but buy less of it from the music industry.

Newspapers are down in circulation – they’re going out for free in manchester … for advertising purposes. They are under pressure from the environmental concerns. Online newspapers though now have the opportunity to get back to the job of providing breaking news (it was taken over by the advent of radio and tv) – which it can do online. Online it can compete with the speed of TV and radio.

Implications for education (media literacy for 21st century – white paper by Henry Jenkins with Ravi Purushotma, Katherine Clinton, Margaret Weigel, and Alice J. Robison)

  • Play — the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem-solving
  • Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details.
  • Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation — the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
  • Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms.

see Tony Karrer’s contribution.

see also