Gen Y and Technology

Posted Thursday September 11, 2008 by John Gunders in |

The popular belief that people in their 20s and 30s are tech-savvy, early-adopters who are always online gets another workout by a marketing executive:

Phone and email are no longer enough, he [Darren Leffler, a Sydney-based product marketing manager with Nortel] told a TUANZ audience last week. Rather than seeing themselves as the centre of a marketing and support realm, and the contact centre as the interface to a ring of customers and prospects, companies need to become fully participating members of the online communities, “because that’s where Generation Y are”.

Link courtesy of Computerworld

This view just doesn’t gel with my observations, and those of people I know: certainly, there are young people like those generalisations above, just as there are luddites of every age. But for the generalisations to be correct, a majority of young people should be like this, and that’s not what I’m seeing.

Yes, they’ve all got the latest mobile phone, and one or two email accounts. They’ve probably also got the odd, unused MySpace or Facebook account that they picked up to see what it was all about, and then got bored with. Maybe a blog with the most recent post dated 2007.

But if you try and teach new media in a communications course, you find that mobile phones and email about about the full extent. Sure, they’ve all heard of Second Life, but don’t know anyone who has actually visited it. They might log into Facebook occasionally to look at photos, but only if someone emails them to tell them to look. RSS and other aggregators are a mystery, and forget, Digg, and probably even Flickr.

I’m not particularly concerned if a marketing company gets the demographic wrong and wastes a lot of money in setting up facilities that don’t get used (of course these technologies will be increasingly accepted over time), but when universities make the same mistakes, it’s a problem. With the increasing promotion of online content mechanisms like WebCT and Blackboard comes the assumption that students will understand and be comfortable using these technologies, and that is something many of my colleagues are not seeing. Rather, they are spending many additional hours on email, trying to explain how the “new technologies” (that aren’t really very new) work.

It seems that there are a lot of tech-heads in charge of university technology departments, who don’t realise just how far ahead of the game they are. That’s good: they are precisely the people I want in charge of IT. But they need to be aware that there is always resistance to new technologies, and that it doesn’t always come only from us old people!

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