Observe and learn: multi-tasking teens

By Steve Outing

I just got back from parents weekend at my 16-year-old daughter’s boarding school in New England. At the end of the program, the kids got kicked off campus for a couple days, so she and I traveled around the region until school reopened. It was a great opportunity to observe the media habits of a typical American teenager (not to mention a little father-daughter bonding).

In our hotel one evening, I observed her watching a DVD on her Macbook (The Return of the King). No full-screen view for her; she had the movie going in a window that took up only part of the screen. Also attracting her attention elsewhere on the screen were IM chat sessions with friends (multiple conversations), and sometimes Facebook or MySpace interactions. And then occasionally her iPhone would beep with an incoming text message.

She didn’t stop the movie to engage in the IM sessions. She’s comfortable doing multiple things at once in the digital environment, which is what I’ve noticed with her friends as well. Perhaps if this had been the first time she’d seen that movie, she would have focused intently on it.

I sometimes wonder if media executives who struggle with adapting to the new digital realities have spent much time watching young people use media. It doesn’t take long to understand a few simple truths about digital natives like my daughter:

  1. They expect their media to allow them to interact and communicate, not be passive.
  2. They are seldom loyal to one brand for very long.
  3. If they do focus on a single brand, it likely will get only part of their attention.
  4. The online content that they view is frequently found as a result of friends’ recommendations (e.g., by instant messages or phone text messages).
  5. If your brand expects to reach them, it better be in lots of places online, and especially those places where young people hang out online.
Author: Steve Outing Steve Outing is a Boulder, Colorado-based media futurist, digital-news innovator, consultant, journalist, and educator. ... Need assistance with media-company future strategy? Get in touch with Steve!