StratVantage Consulting, LLC — Mike’s Take on the News 02/06/01
Clipped from: http://www.stratvantage.com/news/020601.htm
The News – 02/06/01
Generation E Thinks Different
With Generation X getting a bit long in the tooth, and Generation Y never quite getting out of the gate, Generation E, for Electronic, takes the Net for granted and snaps up new technologies and innovations at a pace their elders can only envy. Image the poor disadvantaged children who aren’t part of the 51 percent of US homes with Internet access. Well, just because they’re not getting it at home, it doesn’t mean they can’t pick it up in a New York minute. A recent Business 2.0 UK article described an experiment in a village in India:
Above a certain age – between 13 and 16, according to most research – humans confronted with something new will try to relate to another thing they already know, whereas below that age, children accept new things on their own terms. This can give them almost mystical powers of cognition, as the visionary academic Dr Sugata Mitra has shown with experiments with Generation E in India. Mitra takes touch-sensitive screens wired up to the Net, and embeds them in walls in settlements where people have no experience of Net access – urban slums, remote rural towns, small villages – and leaves them, without any instruction or teacher, to see what happens. He watches using CCTV [closed circuit TV], and what he sees is always the same. The 13 to 18-year-old boys poke about for a bit, look for someone to help, give up and slope off. Girls over 13 stand peering at the boys. The adults won’t touch it, seemingly afraid of hurting it, or themselves. But the boys and girls between eight and 13 figure out the clicking principle in two minutes, the drag-down menu in another two, and start surfing in about 20; eerily, the speed and order in which they learn is always the same.
Michelle Selinger, a British academic studying the impact of the Net on children’s education, thinks that children exposed to the Net at an early age are evolving a different sort of attention and concentration. Text is not the most important medium anymore, she says, and "visual perceptions of the structure of information are changing. It’s easier to dart around and get taken off the point with hypertext, and I’m sure this is why children’s concentration span is said to be poor. I’m not convinced it is, though. I just think it’s different."
My kids are definitely showing signs of being post-literate. And when you think of it, the supremacy of text sparked by Gutenberg’s Bible was really an aberration. Before movable type made text accessible, most learning and tradition was oral and visual. Is the media of today returning us to the form of learning that first distinguished us from the apes?
Highfalutin sociological ideas aside, what does this mean for the Web, which is currently mostly text? Right now sites that are primarily visual are basically an annoyance. I personally can’t get to the “Skip intro” button fast enough when I see a home page that uses Macromedia’s Flash multimedia technology. And the inevitable insipid musical accompaniment! Turn it off! Turn it off!
But I doubt my kids will have the same reaction, especially as bandwidth improves and visual artists begin to pay more attention to communication rather than pretty images. Do vendors such as TellMe or AOL Phone, which provide telephone access to Web services, have it right? Call a phone number, ask for information in natural language, and have it read to you? Well, what’s not to like? Other than not having a good way to cut and paste notes, who wouldn’t rather call up and say, “My stocks” and have the quotes read to you? Would you prefer to fire up your computer (2 minutes for a PC), log on to your Internet service (1 minute), start your browser (40 seconds), type an URL (10 seconds without typos), and wait for the page to display (30 seconds to 1 minute depending on connection speed)? I don’t think so. There are certainly some challenges for these services, including the much too literal way they read you your email. Nonetheless, the concept is good.
It reminds me of the story of the CEO who was being pitched an Executive Information System (EIS) many years ago. The salesperson was describing how he could have information on his business instantly available at his fingertips. The CEO, not impressed, snarled and said, “You want to know what I do when I need information? Watch.” He picks up the phone, dials, and says, “Hey Smithers, get me the latest sales figures, pronto.” Problem solved, and sales opportunity over.
While there is certainly a place for text in the GenE world (witness the huge popularity of Short Message Service (SMS) among teens in Europe) other modes of information acquisition may be more important, and certainly can have larger short-term impact.
The Business 2.0 article offers several differences between GenE and us dinosaurs:
Old media model: absorption of imagination in one medium, lying in bed listening to record dreaming of chosen pop star.
Generation E: surfing Net, watching TV, talking to mate on phone, shouting at younger sibling because they want a go.
Old media model: a brand whose consistency of content brings them back time and time again.
Generation E: Once you’ve seen the content once, you’ve seen it forever. The exciting thing is surfing for new sites, not revisiting the same ones.
Old media model: Hey kids – we can talk your language!
Generation E: Yeah, but we can talk our own! Generation E Wants to talk to itself, or directly to its heroes. Which is kind of the same thing.
Old media model: If in doubt, use sex.
Generation E: Er, OK. I didn’t say everything had changed, did I?
Old media model: This week’s competition winners! i.e. the cool and the lucky get to go in the spotlight, as usual.
Generation E: Everyone’s a winner – talking in a chat room is the only place where all kids, shy and loud, pretty and nerdy, boy and girl, get to be heard equally in 14-point blinking type.
So what does this mean for your Web site? Well, if you’re B2B, you probably don’t need to worry for 10 years or so when GenE starts into business. But if GenE is part of your target audience for a B2C site, post-literate communication should be huge on your radar screen. Maybe you should try to come up with the next Hampsterdance , the Web site that spawned a hit single and a significant merchandising business.
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