Young people wary about the downsides of technology

Young people are conflicted between feeling empowered by technology and enslaved by it – a signal to brands to push their lifestyle credentials.

Most young people are cautious or cynical about the role that technology plays in their lives, new research suggests, with the vast majority (94 per cent) agreeing or somewhat agreeing that ‘people spend too much time looking at their phones and not enough time talking to each other’.

The Youth Tech report by youth research agency Voxburner and YouGov, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, also shows that 82 per cent of young people agree or somewhat agree that ‘it’s great to take a break from technology every now and again for a few days or more’. Voxburner surveyed over 1,500 UK adults aged 18 to 24 between December 2013 and January 2014 on a range of technology-related issues (see Methodology, below).

Technology addiction

The findings call into question the idea that young people are addicted to technology and inseparable from their devices. Elsewhere, the research reveals that while 40 per cent of respondents say they are ‘very interested’ in technology, only 9 per cent say they are ‘obsessed’.

“I think young people feel conflicted in their relationship with technology,” says Luke Mitchell, head of insight at Voxburner. “They love the convenience and empowerment that it brings to their everyday lives, but they also resent the fact that they feel enslaved by it.”

Mitchell notes that because technology is deeply ingrained in young people’s lives, they take it for granted and do not necessarily enjoy using it. He argues that brands should focus on how they can improve people’s lives, rather than the technology itself.

For example, he praises the dating app Tinder for helping people connect for dates in a simple and functional way. “On the Tinder home page there’s a video that explains what it does,” notes Mitchell. “Rather than labouring over the various features of the app, it shows how people don’t always have the courage to ask for a date and how Tinder can help.”

Internet company Yahoo has done its own research into Generation Z – defined as people aged 16 to 34 – which shows that 56 per cent never switch off their phone and that 43 per cent reach for their phone whenever they have a spare minute. But in its own marketing it is putting an emphasis on ‘real world’ experiences and how technology can enhance them, rather than pushing technology for its own sake.

Last year Yahoo agreed a deal to sponsor the Wireless music festival in London as a way of promoting its services and generating content for its sites. Yahoo also ran an extensive marketing campaign around the festival that included online competitions and access to exclusive content.

By sponsoring the Wireless festival, Yahoo aims to highlight real-life benefits of its technology

“This particular audience has a very high interest in the ways that technology is making their lives easier and optimising their experiences,” says Yahoo head of research in northern Europe Patrick Hourihan. “The brands that are most successful at this are those that leverage trust with the audience and deliver a clear value exchange.”

Pessimistic future

The Voxburner research shows that almost half of young people are pessimistic about the effects technology will have on the world in the future. When confronted with the statement ‘I believe technology will increasingly be used for evil rather than good’, 53 per cent disagree or somewhat disagree versus 47 per cent who agree or somewhat agree.


In addition, the study shows that 24 per cent of people aged 18 to 24 have been ‘cyberbullied’ or subjected to distressing personal comments online. A further 59 per cent agree or somewhat agree with the statement ‘the internet needs more censorship and control’.

Dave Coplin, chief envisioning officer at Microsoft UK, argues that society should do more to tackle online problems such as cyberbullying. His role partly involves working with government and industry stakeholders to provide strategic advice around the impact of technology on a modern society.

“The problem for technology brands when it comes to young people is that a great deal of the media coverage about technology is the terrible things that technology enables in our society, whether it is the extremes of child abuse, cyberbullying, trolling and so on,” says Coplin.

“I’m worried that there isn’t enough selling of the positives of technology. To see that people are still on the whole quite buoyant about its potential and what it can do in their lives is important.”

The research also reveals only lukewarm enthusiasm among young people about social networking. While the majority of young people (55 per cent) say they like using Facebook, less than half as many (27 per cent) say they love it and 7 per cent say they dislike it. Attitudes towards Twitter show even more indifference, with 23 per cent in the love category versus 38 per cent who like it and 28 per cent who say they have no feeling towards it.

Despite some media reports that young people are moving away from Facebook because their parents and older people have joined the network, Coplin believes it remains a powerful tool for a young demographic. “At the moment there might be a slight issue of it feeling like your dad has turned up at the school disco, but that will settle down,” he says. “Ultimately people want to be in the same network as everybody else so they can talk to everybody else.”

Technologies of the future

Young people were also asked to name the ‘future’ technologies that most interest them. 3D printing came top, with 42 per cent of the vote, followed by the ‘internet of things’ with 34 per cent. Wearable technology and augmented reality were less well received, with 24 and 14per cent of young people selecting them, respectively.

Voxburner’s Luke Mitchell believes this result is further proof of the need for brands to demonstrate how technology can deliver clear improvements to the lives of young people. “Young people are very sceptical about gimmicks in technology,” he notes.

“Right now they haven’t heard anything about wearable tech that makes them think that it’s really going to benefit them.”


The Youth Tech report consists of a survey of 1,544 UK adults aged 18 to 24 that was conducted between December 2013 and January 2014. The survey was carried out by YouGov and youth research agency Voxburner, part of The Beans Group, and unveiled at the Youth Marketing Strategy event in London this week.

Marketer’s Viewpoint


Dave Coplin
Chief envisioning officer
Microsoft UK

A tablet or smartphone is no different from a TV or a car for most young people – it’s just part of life. To see that maturity come through in this research is a positive thing to see. Many of the findings are about using technology to help achieve things rather than it being the goal in itself.

This is a world of services, not of devices. Young people want great access to really good services and whether that’s on an iPad or an Android tablet is less relevant to them. 

Microsoft is obviously a service provider to this community and we know that young people will jump onto the next free service if we don’t keep it sharp and give them what they’re looking for.


Patrick Hourihan
Head of research
Northern Europe 

The research that we’ve done on Generation Z [16- to 34-year-olds] shows that technology and the internet are central to this particular audience’s lives – more so than any other demographic.

One of the key findings was that the experiences and interactions that Gen Z are having in the digital space are making their way into physical spaces too. A good example of this is at the Wireless festival last summer, for which Yahoo was a sponsor.

We also found that young people are optimistic because of the empowerment that technology and the internet deliver to them. It’s about brands leveraging content and allowing Gen Z to feel ownership and empowerment around that content in order to deliver authentic experiences.


Ruth Mortimer

What will be the ‘shift moment’ in your industry?

Ruth Mortimer

When was the moment your industry changed? The Big Four supermarkets may look back and say that early 2014 was the moment they knew retailing as they knew it was over. Almost £3bn was wiped off the share values of the Big Four last week as they embarked on a new price war.