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Teens Still Live Mostly Offline, Study Finds
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April 14, 2009

Teens Still Live Mostly Offline, Study Finds

By David Sims, TMCnet Contributing Editor

So you think everything's moving into online social community? Not so fast there. Research into the attitudes of youth towards technology "has exploded some of the myths about the technology consumption and media choices of young people today," according to officials of the British organization A Beta Life - Youth.

The organization "examined how technology affects all aspects of young people's relationships," officials say, concluding that "the offline world is still the primary influence and driver of young people in how they conduct their lives, including interactions with friends, family, entertainment media, communication technologies, advertising and brands." The research was conducted in the UK, US, Germany, India and Japan between September and December 2008 among 8,000 "technology-embracing" 12 - 24 year olds.

The research, conducted by OTX in association with Nokia (News - Alert), MTV Networks, 20th Century Fox, Fox Mobile Group, and Channel 4, shows that digital technology "plays two main functions in young people's lives -- as a means of improving their enjoyment of and access to traditional offline behaviors, but more significantly in the creation of commutainment -- a hybrid of communication and entertainment where the act of communicating itself becomes a form of entertainment."

With up to eight digital gadgets in their bedroom -- yes, your teens are normal -- and access to four more in their household, the popular perception is that young people are immersed in gadgets and technology for their own sake. However, A Beta Life's research finds that young people's immersion in these devices, and the time spent on them, "is not due to an obsession with the technology per se, but largely due to the gadgets' ability to facilitate communication and to enhance young people's enjoyment of traditional pursuits."
For most, in fact, it's a pretty sensible approach: "The focus of their passion is not so much the device itself, but more about how it can help them connect, relax or have fun. The technology itself is invisible to the young consumer -- despite the millions of widgets they download from Facebook (News - Alert), young people are not even comfortable using widespread technology terminology such as 'widgets'." 
Graham Saxton, Managing Director, Media and Entertainment Insights, OTX, scoffs at the notion that young people's obsession with digital technology is due to a fascination with the technology and gadgets. "In fact," he says, "they are only interested in technology as a means to an end. The traditional world remains the go-to destination for meeting their friends and entertainment and real, offline destinations and pastimes still rate higher than the online space."
Think about it, of course he's right -- do you consider yourself in love with your cell phone, or its ability to bring you contact with people? It's the same for your kids.

Fifteen years ago, most teenagers would have had access to just one communications device -- their household phone. Today, despite being involved in what the study finds are an astonishing 48 digital communications every day, the average young person "remains most engaged by traditional behaviors -- of their overall top ten favourite activities seven are still offline." Traditional activities such as hanging out with friends, listening to music, and seeing boy/girlfriends dominate the top three favourite pastimes of young people, while digital behaviours such as creating user generated content have a much lower penetration than commonly perceived  -- quick, how many young people have written a blog?  How many have filmed and uploaded a clip to a site like YouTube (News - Alert)? The answers are 16 and 21 percent respectively. Surprised?
Even when engaged in digital communications, young people prefer activities with a social context -- "texting friends" and "sharing video content with friends" both score much higher than watching video alone on their handheld device.

The study also found distinct differences in attitudes to digital technology on a gender level: "Female early teens are much more active communicators compared to males," something which has been true since, oh, the Garden of Eden, technology notwithstanding. This then reverses in late teens, as anybody with teenage daughters knows -- "How was school?" "Mmph."
And if you think texting is ubiquitous, you're right -- the study found that 34 percent even text the group of friends that they are physically with -- okay, that's a bit weird.

David Sims is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of David’s articles, please visit his columnist page. He also blogs for TMCnet here.

Edited by Jessica Kostek

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