Their use of technology is pervasive and sophisticated. You can pretty much count on the totality of Gen Y to be online and connected. Research conducted by the Insights division of Ypulse in September 2010 shows 94% of Gen Y to be on Facebook, spending 11.4 hours a week within its pearly blue gates. This connectivity is nearly ubiquitous, with more than three quarters (78%) of high school and college students connecting to their preferred social network via their mobile phone.
Mobile devices and the Facebook platform are the glue that keeps this generation connected. When Gen Y communicates with each other, their preferred tool is a text message (55% state texting as the primary means of communicating with their friends), followed by Facebook (24%). Voice-based communications (landline, VOIP and mobile voice calls) amongst Gen Y represents only 10% of communications, IM is the primary communications tool for 7% and email is dominant among a meager 1% of Gen Y when communicating peer to peer.
Aside from browsing and chatting, status updates are the third-biggest activity on Facebook and 74% of Gen Y use status updates to indicate what they're up to, what they're doing or where they're going on a daily basis. We measured the impact of the recent two-day service disruption (Sept. 22-23) within Facebook, and while it hasn't dissuaded kids from relying on Facebook, it certainly cramped their ability to organize themselves for two days.
Conspiracy theorists should peg the Facebook outage on mobile carriers, who must have seen text traffic surge as Gen Y was unable to keep each other apprised of their activities and movements via Facebook. We can only empathize with observant Jewish Harrisburg University students who endured three fasts within the course of a week.
On a less glib note, I spoke at the Children's Advertising Review Unit annual conference in New York this week, wherein we discussed the impact that this massive acceleration in the penetration of new media among youth will have on our society. Ironically, the youngest members of our civilization are on the front lines of some of the biggest changes in how we operate as a society. We really haven't figured out the long-term societal implications of sharing personal information in the open communications forum that is the social network.
Surveying Gen Y themselves, their biggest concerns are that they may not get the job that they want due to something that they said or posted in a social network. They are also fairly concerned about being stalked (either online or offline) based on information shared online. While still a concern amongst a third of Gen Y, having their social networking behavior impact their academic prospects or be seen by a family member are lesser concerns youth have about the implications of their online behavior.
In the entire debate around the social implications of digitally sharing every little detail with others, the most compelling datum was the fact that Gen Y relies upon the advice of their friends or from the social networks themselves over any advice from parents, family or educators when it comes to managing their personal information. Supremely confident in their own capabilities, Gen Y simply feels that they are the best equipped to deal with the day-to-day decisions on the front lines of technology and privacy.