FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Generation M, Knowledge Centers and Personal Space

Russell Buckley of MobHappy explores the differences between how the older and younger generations view mobile technology:

To this [over-40] generation, the mobile is a phone first and foremost, though they may have embraced sms.

To the first true mobile generation (let’s loosely say that they’re under 40, although in practice they’re a little younger), the mobile is something else entirely. It’s the very engine of their social lives and centre of their attention most of the time. Without their mobile, they’d be no more capable of dating and maintaining a relationship or arranging to spend time with friends and actually managing to meet up with them on the day, than a Boeing 777 is of crossing the Atlantic without any engines...

These people will adopt all the social functionality of their seniors, but the mobile will take over from the PC as the single most important digital device for accessing the web, as well their personal entertainment hub for music and gameplay, not to mention the recorder and archivist of their lives and proof of identity.

To "Generation M," the mobile device is a way of life, serving as both communicator and knowledge center ("knowledge" encompassing all forms of information, from business to recreational). One comment on Buckley's post provides an amusing anecdote: "When my 4 year old son first saw a cordless phone at his grandparent’s house, he picked it up and asked where the games were on it." Of course, Grandma and Grandpa were old enough to remember when cordless phones were themselves the stuff of science fiction.

But what's more important is the way that mobile devices govern young people's interaction with others. With a cell phone, friends and family are never more than a phone call or text message away -- a level of immersion that can be a mixed blessing. When people not only expect but demand constant interaction, any break in that connection causes worry and stress. Why won't she call or text? Is she OK? Is she mad at me? Someone may start to ask these questions even when not hearing from a friend for as little as a few minutes. Even PCs and the Internet give us the chance to walk away and shut them down occasionally; mobile devices never give us that break. It's little wonder, then, that Generation M has no problem using online tools such as MySpace to share their most personal information with the entire wired world.

The human psyche wasn't designed to be "plugged in" at all times, so we are going to have to learn to adapt to the power of our devices and redefine personal space. Today's teens -- the first generation too young to remember life without cell phones -- will lead the way, if only by necessity. And like all pioneers, they will get all the scrapes and bruises that go with blazing new trails.