A generation that believes in 140 characters as a form of activism, stirring millions with words, fleeting from one screen to another; a generation that lives by screens, ‘screenagers’ – that’s what the generation is called. Douglas Rushkoff had envisioned in 1997 that ‘screenagers’ would be “our evolutionary future”. True to his word, an evolution it is.
When was the last day you remember that you spent without looking at a screen? Hard to recall? Yet, we are the first ones to scoff at ‘screenagers’ who spend most of their time staring at screens. Here is a tryst with reality – India has an exploding number of 791,000,000 mobile subscribers and a nation where rural internet users have risen by 98 per cent. Not only this, 94 per cent smartphone users use their mobile to access the internet, of which 36 per cent are in the age group of 18-29 years. The dependence on smart phones, tablets, laptops, mobiles is tremendous, which is changing the way we communicate, collaborate and share.
It is, therefore, a good time to step back, peak into the future and understand what keeps the ‘screenager’ hooked.
Control: Closely observe a group of teenagers brought together for, say, a group discussion. Inevitably, you will find more than two people in the group in their own silos engaged with their devices. That explains that even in a group, the ‘screenager’ chooses to control his activity.
The ease of shutting down and then signing back into screens puts the control in the palm of a ‘screenager’ – a factor that is both a necessity and demand which is otherwise not so easy to obtain in their offline worlds. Entertainment, socialising, gaming, learning – it all comes together on the multi-screen life of a ‘screenager’, making the ‘offline’ world a namesake. This means more and more communication would need to be personalised and targeted to individuals.
Real-time information: Knowing ‘now’, contributing to trending topics, solving problems, airing their opinion is turning into a habit. The redundancy of the newspaper as information provider, and the importance of social media as ‘the source’ is increasingly visible today in broadcast of information, whether it be an earthquake or a terrorist attack or even the slightest change in weather, the information is all available on the screen. ‘Screenagers’ simultaneously alternate between various roles – that of being content providers and content aggregators – giving back to the community while seeking its opinion on the next decision they make.
Pocket friendly: Access to internet on a mobile anywhere is probably the biggest reason why ‘screenagers’ are hooked. Let us face it. We may trudge our laptops everywhere, but in the absence of a USB dongle (or even in the presence of one), accessing the internet is a major issue in our country. In this scenario, mobile internet applications play a key role in connecting ‘screenagers’ to their virtual lives, anywhere and everywhere. Several applications powered by mobile internet make sharing a document, a photo, a small file extremely easy. For a ‘screenager’ who is constantly on the move, this ability to be able to send out data without really depending on a computer is very convenient.
Entertainment: From celebrating birthdays on Facebook, watching music videos on their smart screens to ousting each other on mobile games, screenagers view their mobile social entertainment in the same light as they would, say, going to a movie or eating out. Also, since screenagers are mostly young adults who are either in college or starting out at work, the need to be online and in constant touch with friends is higher – making mobile entertainment a viable option. Mobile entertainment in India has caught up in a big way, primarily due to cost effective internet data plans. This has enabled a significant boom in the usage of mobile internet in sub-urban and rural India, which was otherwise, unheard of.
This is not all…the comfort of being independent with the world at your fingers is what makes being compulsively addicted to screens. The evolution is in progress!
The author is Country Head, mig33