The social norms set by young people online today are the window of the future we will all eventually be drawn into.
My family bought our first computer when I was 15, and we didn’t get the internet connected until the year after. Before these days, I used to research my assignments in the library and scrawl drafts down by hand before typing them up quickly on the school computers.
I got my first mobile phone – the standard issue Nokia brick complete with snake – when I was 18, and sometimes wouldn’t even turn it on for a whole day, in the mindset that it was for “emergencies”.
I lived on campus at university, and I remember visiting a friend in another hall where it was the trend to construct an arty poster that you would hang on your door and fill in the blanks for where you were – in class, at lunch, away for the day, or just napping.
The statement “how times have changed” is almost redundant here because the days I’m recalling are fuzzy memories for many of us who don’t even need to log into Facebook or Twitter any more, it simply exists ever present on our phones.
Describing our lives as digital is unnecessary for most of us, because that’s just how we live – even those of us who can recall life before the internet, and we are becoming a species outnumbered by those who can’t.
Understandable then is the surge in research looking to uncover the new behavioural nuances that have now evolved. Just last night, McCann Worldgroup launched its latest study of 7,000 people around the world aged 16 to 30, entitled ’The Truth About Youth’.
The digitalisation of our lives has made way for a new ’social economy’, McCann points out, and with etiquette prevailing that is alien to those pre-internet days.
Our views on friendship are redefined, our circles expanded by contacts on Facebook/Twitter/Linked In that may rarely or never have graced our physical lives. An invite from someone we barely know is still an invite to consider; a comment on a photo or statement from someone you haven’t spoken to in a year is a validation of your connection and importance.
“Connecting to a broader network of friends has replaced the need to belong to a smaller tight knit group,” McCann notes.
We create, share and acquire content at a rate like never before, documenting our lives and asserting our status as knowledge and stimulus providers. Being offline for an extended period of time is considered the digital equivalent of silence or hibernation.
As for brands that wish to thrive in this social economy, McCann suggests that those that become “socially useful” will assist people in these functions and play to these behaviours. As the agency sums up: “Socially useful brands will help young people to broadcast, share, entertain, make new connections and manage them, beat their friends, narrate their friends, be chameleons.”
But: “They don’t want brands as fake friends and to use social media as an opportunity to bombard with messages.”
Those fake friends, that don’t add value to our digital experience and its convergence with the physical, will inevitably be culled. Much like the way we assess our Facebook friends – there may be someone I want to delete because traditionally speaking, we aren’t really friends, but their news feeds are entertaining enough that I want to keep that thread alive.
This is not just the truth about youth – this is the way everyone’s life is heading. As much as studies like this are valuable now, they will soon become redundant. Brands will eventually not find it useful to know how young people behave online, because the early adopters will be superceded by the next generation, the children of those who can’t recall a time before the internet – imagine that.