Is It All That Different?

by , Mar 8, 2012, 8:15 AM
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As a closer-to-40-than-30 father of a baby girl, I'm well out of my league to talk about the life of a teenager from a first-hand or parental perspective. But as a marketer and technophile, my daydreams are often filled with golden rays and Andy Rooney's voice saying "when I was a kid … we didn't even have email. We didn't have instant messenger. We didn't text each other in class; no, we passed notes."

We had trapper-keepers. I had one with David Hasselhoff and KIT on the front. It was cool. I was in college in the ’90s when I got my first email address. We learned we could ping the system to see who else was online. That was a big deal. When I graduated I got an iWon.com email address. Remember iWon.com? Now I’ve lost all those emails, just like I don’t have the notes I passed in high school.

My brother-in-law, a recent college grad, doesn't seem to have an email address. Maybe he does, but I've never seen it. He sends me text messages and Facebook messages. Rarely, do we speak on the phone.

PennLive.com reports that school (printed) yearbook sales are down. I remember the day when yearbooks would arrive and we’d run around school asking friends (and hopefully the really cute girls) to sign them. And if we were lucky, just lucky enough, perhaps one of those girls would draw a heart next to your name. Those were our emoticons.

When I was 13 years old I got glasses. I hated them and when I was 15 I switched to contact lenses. Did you know that by 2014 DARPA will have provided the military with Internet-connected augmented reality contact lenses. And what’s military eventually makes it into the hands of consumers. So by 2030 (when my little girl is a sophomore in college) she’s not going to need to learn anything. No, instead, the answers will simply appear right before her eyes!

But what’s it like now? Perhaps I’m ignorant, but my belief is that being a teenager now isn’t all that different from being a teenager years ago. The angst, the depression, the joys and fears, excitement from new emotions and activities all exist. One difference is that life is more public. (I’m thankful social media didn’t exist when I was a teenager.)

Recently, there was a CNN report on Apple's iBook 2.0 release regarding digital text-books. Listed were the pro's of having less to carry (and an absence of back problems), fewer trees destroyed, cost savings. Con's included having to look at a screen for prolonged periods and having to get used to a new way of learning. Is it really that different? Aren’t we used to receiving information via bright shiny screens already?

After all, Jane Weaver from MSNBC published an article last summer when Yahoo and Carat Interactive found that young people (13-24) were spending more time online versus TV. Was anyone really surprised by this? Why be forced to watch programming? Why only have 200+ choices of TV channels when one has the Internet? Where professionals may feel tethered by devices that never let us leave the virtual office, teens have choices. And with those choices come control. And what does every teen want? The ability to make decisions for oneself. For teens, choice = decisions = control = freedom.

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