My teenage son’s summer reading assignment is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. He will put off reading it until the last minute; I happily re-read it as soon as it appeared in the house.
The novel is set in a future when books are burned for their ability to make people think. People are entertained in parlors whose walls are dimensional images playing nonsense, and personal interaction has all but disappeared.
It’s a commentary on politics, government, media consumption and censorship.
One of the most significant characters in the novel is a teenager named Clarisse. She doesn’t get many pages, but she’s a catalyst for the book’s action and stands in such sharp contrast to everyone else in the Fahrenheit world. Clarisse is awake, attuned, inquisitive, engaged. Nearly everyone else is addle-brained, numbed by media devised to ensure they don’t think, only “enjoy.”
Too often today, adults worry that the devices in their kids’ palms could turn them not into Clarisse but into everyone else in her world. Zoned out, disconnected, distant from real emotion.
Danah Boyd, a senior researcher at Microsoft (@zephoria), has an interesting perspective on teens’ behavior in the digital world. She thinks adults may worry too much and sees teens’ online behavior as nothing more than relocated behavior that teens exhibit naturally. In a time when the freedom to roam streets and neighborhoods unsupervised has been largely restricted by parents, teens do the normal stuff of hanging out – flirting, talking, joking, sharing – online.
Whatever your perspective, I hope you would agree that brands have some responsibility to positively impact the time teens spend with them online.
Brands can choose to put out content that is nothing more than mind-numbing entertainment, or they can serve up some nourishment with that dessert. No doubt, entertainment is key to engaging teens, but that doesn’t mean teens want only dessert all the time. And, as a parent, I know I would prefer they have a more balanced diet.
Here are some ways brands can ensure they are serving up the right mix:
In the end, there’s no reason for brands not to initiate these kinds of engagements. Teens online are already creating, connecting and expressing themselves. By offering a balance of enrichment and enjoyment, brands can create a win/win/win – for the brand, for teens and for the parents who worry about their online diets. In so doing, brands enable a media experience that is far more positive than the one Bradbury imagined.