A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 91% of teenagers 12-17 years old have access to the Internet. They also reveal that 78% of teenagers have cell phones and 37% of teenagers have Internet-enabled smartphones. If you want proof that “Gen Z” is indoctrinated with technology far more than any preceding generation, those statistics might do it.
The extent that kids are immersed in these technologies has clear ramification for how they (and probably the rest of us) will be communicating in the future.
When the Pew researchers segmented their respondents further by gender and age, some interesting patterns emerged.
30% of girls are “mobile-only” Internet users compared to 20% of boys. In fact girls rated higher for every measure of technological adoption measured by the study. More cell phones, more computers, more tablets, more mobile only Internet. The difference between genders in social media seems to be consistent in Gen Z as well.
In the age sub-groups, as expected the teenagers (14-17 years old) had a much higher rate of adoption that the tweens (12-13 years old). This seems to indicate a false positive of sorts. Technological adoption is probably higher than Pew reports simply because they are measuring before and after the tipping point where parents mobile enable their kids. It stands to reason that the tween segment will adopt at the rate of the teenagers or higher in a couple of years.
What does this mean?
The mobile enabled teenager at first glance seems to reinforce what Kathy Savitt says about Gen Z: they are the most disruptive generation ever. But there are some disruptive aspects of their technology adoption that I find fascinating for the future.
First off: what is the future for texting and email? 60% of teenage phones aren’t smartphones, which means that the primary means of communication (besides calling) is texting. Email marketing has been shown to be more effective than social media because email has more consistent reach. Now you have a generation of people growing up with text messages serving the same purpose of email for older generations. (Pew reported last year that the average teenager sends 1800 text messages a month). Will teenagers continue to text when they graduate to adulthood? I think that’s entirely plausible and would disrupt quite a few of the marketing and business communications conventions that we commonly see.
Secondly: what is the future of apps versus mobile-enabled sites? There have been many studies showing that people prefer apps to mobile enabled sites (including this one last year from Purdue), but there’s also conflicting information about how many apps each person uses on their smartphone (I don’t use many consistently, probably less than 5% that I’ve downloaded or bought). Clearly there’s a trend towards smartphones within Gen Z, with a significant portion of those users mobile-only. How will they consume and how will they be reached?