January 24th, 2006
There have always been generation gaps, especially when it comes to politics, but if you believe the latest hype about the Digital Generation (such as this Times article), the new generation gap is more like a gapping chasm. The argument goes that the Digital Generation doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just consume media differently, they also think different:
“What’s hard to measure, and what we’re trying to measure,” Mr. McKenzie continued, “is the impact of groupthink, of group mentality, and the tendency of what we might call the democratization of social interaction and how that changes this generation’s relationship with almost everything they come in contact with.”
“You’ve got a group of kids who are unbelievably, incredibly loyal to each other,” Dr. Levine said. “They are very bound to ethics and values. But in a funny sort of way, it prevents some of them from developing as individuals.” Along with finding technological dexterity in this group, and a highly developed ability to work in team settings, Dr. Levine said he had encountered concerns that some young people lacked the ability to think and plan for the long term, that they withered without immediate feedback and that the machinery of groupthink had bred a generation flush with loyal comrades but potentially weak on leaders.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m deeply skeptical of this view. People who grew up with the Internet and cell pones may be much more efficient at communicating and tapping in to the opinions of peers, but that doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean they canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think for themselves. I know many people in their early 20s, and they can all think just fine. Teenagers and college students have always been deeply influenced by their social experiences, peer pressure, etc. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ- just because they are doing more Ã¢â‚¬Å“instantÃ¢â‚¬Â socializing through digital means doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean that they’re suddenly all suffering from Ã¢â‚¬Å“groupthink.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Marketers who approach this audience as if they are a bunch of hive mentality sheep (to mix metaphors), are going to get burned.
The real gap, which is more like a tsunami that will change media forever, is the Digital Generation’s virtually complete abandonment of non-digital media, most notably print. While older generations are consuming an increasingly larger share of their media online, the argument that Ã¢â‚¬Å“people still read print magazinesÃ¢â‚¬Â still has validity (print newspapers seem closer to their extinction). But as the Digital Generation comes of age, the decline of print will reach a tipping point and, I would predict, print media will go into a tailspin from which it will never recover.