Web Informant #309, 17 December 2002:

Teens are the new tech influencers




I have come to the sad realization that I am no longer as influential as I once thought when it comes to technology. And the sad part of it all is that I have been replaced by my teenaged daughter.


Well, not specifically her, but all of her friends and other teens around the world. I used to think that I could help influence the selection of products and services by what I wrote and what I liked. Sadly, I have become obsolete. Take a look at the technologies that are now mainstream: cell phones, Instant Messaging, PDAs, MP3s, CD burners, Web authoring tools. The list goes on and on. Who was the first person to figure this stuff out? My daughter. Who has the best computer in the house? Your teen, because she or he needs the extra performance to play games. Who had a Web page up in the family first? Your teen. (Well, I beat her to it, but not by much, and only because I paid a teen to help me assemble the site. That teen has long ago graduated college and now runs his own dot com.)


When it comes to technology, teens have taken over: they are able to find stuff on Google faster than us, download more music than us, have more people on their IM buddy lists, and be able to figure out more features on Word and PowerPoint than we can ever hope to accomplish. Granted, they have lots more time to figure this stuff out. But they are far facile with technology than we can ever hope to be. And this is from someone who was present at the dawn of the PC revolution, who remembers when 256K was a lot of memory, and was excited about his first 5 MB hard disk. I remember when we had a fight on our hands to recommend the first Compaq "portable" computer for MegaLithic Insurance Company -- a fight because it wasn't an IBM. Oh, those were the days.


Geez, I sound like a technological dinosaur. All I need to do is start recalling how I lugged my 20-pound laptop five miles in the snow to school, and I have become my father (actually, my Dad took the subway to school, but the walk in the snow is a better story to tell the kids and grandkids.)


But it is terrible to realize how those of us in the tech biz have been eclipsed by our teens. I used to think I was a Techno-Hip Dad: I could IM my kid after school, email her suggestions for homework, and indeed, even check the status of her homework assignments via the school-provided Web site. Yeah, right, as she would say. So five minutes ago. That doesn't prove anything. Meanwhile, she is getting her own PGP key to keep her emails private (well, not yet, but it won't be long now).


What drove this home for me was experiencing the first rite of teenage passage last week: the purchase of my daughter's first cell phone. (You thought I was going to talk about biology: nah. That was so five minutes ago.) She already had surfed the Web sites of the major cell providers, researched which had the better plans and even picked out a phone that Nokia only sells in Japan as the one she really wanted. (Talk about brand specifiers: Japanese teens are way cool, and leave us Yankees in the dust.) The phone we ended up buying was a better phone than the one my company supplies for us at work (it had more ring tones, better menus, and almost as many peak minutes on its plan too). Within nanoseconds after getting the phone, she had figured out text messaging, and the only help she needed was to set up her voicemail box: I am sure she could have figured that out herself, given a little more time.


Look at any random product from Sony these days: they are the product of the teen audience. As an example, there is a portable CD/DVD player that can burn CD-Rs, play MP3s, and connect to your PC via a USB connector and is no bigger than the original Discman. That is a great piece of hardware (at least from the specs), and it has the teen brand-specifier all over it. It would take months for some stodgy IT cubicle slave like me to get around to reviewing it in some computer publication. In the meantime, it would already be in every teen's backpack.


If you need more evidence of the power of teens, check out anandtech.com. It is a web site started by a teen (now a college student) and has plenty of influence, millions of page views, and is more authoritative than PC Magazine.


Well, it is nice to know that my girl is her father's daughter. I will just have to console myself that I can live the rest of my life in some computer old-age home, bring up the occasional DOS screen and type in cryptic commands to amuse myself and remember the good old days. And maybe my daughter and I will rent "A Walk on the Moon" tonight and recall those old days, when the rite of passage was strictly biology, not technology.


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Entire contents copyright 2002 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

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