Well, kids these days. It's easy to write off the changes in the digital world as the result of behavior that is relegated to the age of adolescents and young adulthood.
But that's wrong -- very wrong.
What's changing for young people is changing for all of us. How we connect, how we share. How we present our digital selves.
And the single presentation that brought this point home was given by Britta Schell, MTV's Director of Digital Strategic Insights as she spoke at the Pivot Conference in NYC.
In a powerful collection of research that was both anecdotal and carefully vetted, Schell painted a picture of Millennials today. A picture that gives us powerful insight into the future, if we understand that young people's relationship to the web today is already, in many ways, the behavior we're all seeing broadly in the always-on world.
What did MTV learn? There no longer is a world called OFFLINE. Young people send 3,146 texts per month, over 100 a day. They watch more than 100 online videos a month. And they spend 20 hours online every day -- multitasking.
Millennials are born between 1980-2001, digital natives with an intertwined real life and digital life.
The presentation was called 'Millennials: Decoded', and was broken into four findings. The Curated Me, Publicly Intimate, Like-A-Holism and Digi-Quette.
The Curated Me
Millennials have grown up with a 24/7 news cycle and reality TV. They know the power of branding and publicity. Every day they act as their own digital publicists, curating and monitoring the 'me' brand. Said one young person, "I'm on Twitter all day." And another, "I can't put my phone down."
What does this mean? John L. Jackson, Professor of Communications and Anthropology at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania, explained, Facebook and the phone are no longer tools, they're part of who they are: "They're almost like prosthetic extensions of themselves." Is this curated me accidental, or purposeful? "You are the author of what gets put out there," said one MTV viewer. This curation of your brand image extends beyond posts. It's how you look in pictures, it's what you link to, what music you listen to. Today photos are airbrushed, makeup fixed, and people you don't like edited out of the picture. Millennials want to "portray a positive image." One-third of young people interviewed said they ALWAYS modify their photos online. Said one viewer: "You're in a lot more control, so you can take the things you are and magnify them, or take the things you want to be and completely fabricate them."
One thing is immediately clear, not all platforms are treated the same. 94% agreed that texts are private. While platforms like Twitter and FB status are public, with FB being more superficial, and Twitter more real, phone calls are the least welcome, because they can be 'awkward.' Some topics are public, while others private. Interestingly, sexual orientation is considered public -- while subjects like politics, religion, and risqué and controversial jokes are more private. What this means is that increasingly, we're modifying our voice and message to match the character and community of a network. Schell tells of teens who will post music on their Facebook, knowing that their close friends will 'de-code' the lyrics and understand what's going on in their life.
Research found that Millennials are hungry for immediate, positive digital feedback. Posting a picture, or a link, they expect a burst of comments, or 'likes'. Said one of the viewers: "Everyone wants to be loved. If you have posts, texts, likes, even an email. It's someone trying to communicate to you. There's something invigorating about that." And that immediate feedback is a powerful connection with the wider world. Said another: "I feel famous when I'm on Twitter. There are a couple people who re-tweet everything I say."
The data is compelling here. 79% of respondents said their generation expects feedback, and 58% feel more confident when others respond. 33% said they feel disappointed when others don't respond, and 23% said they feel alone if they don't get feedback.
While the point that Schell makes regarding the almost compulsive need to get positive feedback certainly rings true, I'm not sure that using the phrase 'a-holism' is useful, since it sounds like alcoholism -- and addiction -- which suggests it's a compulsion with a cure. I hope that's not the case. I hope it's a new behavior that in the end creates a more connected, more engaged, more interactive community. And evolution, not an addiction.
The etiquette of the always-on-web is emerging as a series of social behaviors. They can't really be taught about it, because they know more about it than the older generation. Says one expert: "It's like the air they breathe."
And they're sophisticated about the nature of the web, saying that they edit what they say and do online, understanding that it can be distributed and never erased.
Said one respondent: "I have a secret identity as well. I have my Facebook personality, and then I have the me that my friends see. It's me, but it's the outer shell. It's not all of me." Says John L. Jackson of Annenberg, "The only way of being real in the 21st century is in, and through, all of this technology."
So, what does this mean?
Well, in some ways it is the evolution of our society from physical to digital. In the past we knew that we had to behave one way at work, another in a public park, and another at Church or Synagogue. Now those behaviors move online. But what changes is the velocity and frequency of how the Millennials change networks and voices. At any given moment, they can be participating in multiple networks, each with their own level of visibility or privacy. They're a powerful group of emerging creators and consumers, with new expectations of connectedness, responsiveness, and engagement. Britta Schell at MTV says that Millennials have $990 billion in potential spending power, so brands best take notice of how they engage and expect to be engaged.
One thing is for certain, if the new generation created is the Curated Me, then understanding what they edit in, and what they choose to cut out is going to be critically important.
Here's the video MTV presented, very engaging content: