Technological Generation Gaps

Recently reading this article got me to thinking about generation gaps around technology usage. Here are some interesting “factoids” (ok, lets say generalizations) about technology usage:

  • For people my age (37!), email is the “default” communication mechanism, besides the phone. We use IM, but generally for specific real-time situations. Most people I know do very little SMS texting.
  •  People in their 20’s seem to use IM as their default communication, plus the phone. They also send SMS quite a bit.
  • Teenagers apparently do not use email. For them, IM is their default communication system, then SMS texting, then the phone. Teenagers (and some 20 somethings) also use social networking messages (site mail) to send messages to their friends. I don’t know anyone over say, 25, who does this.

I think that last one is the most intersting. Teenagers consider email as a system only used to communicate with authority figures – parents, teachers, etc… What I think is funny is that that is how I consider snail mail! I never send anyone a personal letter, letters are for business purposes only.

It seems like the pace of technology innovation is compressing the time between generation gaps, so that there’s a whole different set of behaviors between the pre-Myspace and post-Myspace “generations”, even though those people are only like 5 years apart in age.

This rapid churn in user behaviors has lots of implications when it comes to trying to build a web startup. Consider the success of YouTube versus all the major media companies who tried (and are trying!) to build audience around video online. You think it’s an accident that YouTube’s investors left Chad Hurley (29 at the time)  as CEO of the company? I doubt it. They probably wished he was younger! I have been in VC meetings where the partners complained that our 30’s age leader was too old for what we were trying to do!

So what’s an entrepeneur in their 30’s to do? All I can suggest is, listen to your users. This is old, old advice, but the pace of change in web user behavior pretty much demands it nowadays.

1 comment so far

  1. gene inger on

    hilarious comment; reminds me of starting financial TV, Scott, when I was 22 in LA and 23 in SF.. the ‘print’ press guys were horrified at the thought of any human doing ‘electronic journalism’ on TV.. so how can I be doing this now, since we started as ‘color TV’ was just growing:-}. Well, keeping up with the times; so now you’ve encountered someone way over 25 that actually does do SMS texting; had cellphones when the only one was the large Motorola (or before; which I hate to recall); but still uses emails with good filters:-}. And yes, we were the first to abandon most TV comments for online analysis way back in antiquity; also known as the ’90’s.. a time when aggregation meant getting the stacks of paper organized :-}

    good luck with your project; it’s exciting and promising!


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