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Youth are expert multitaskers and able to filter different channels of information, according to the “Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground” technology and lifestyle study, which examines assumptions about youths’ relationships with digital technology, and the impact of culture, age and gender on technology use.

A fiew of the findings from the global study by Viacom‘s MTV and Nickelodeon, in association with Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions, into how kids and young people interact with digital technology:

  • One in three UK and US teenagers say they can’t live without their games console; on average, a Chinese young person has 37 online friends s/he has never met; Indian youth are most likely to see mobile phones as a status symbol.
  • Globally, the average young person connected to digital technology has 94 phone numbers in his or her mobile phone, 78 people on a messenger buddy list, 86 people in his or her social networking community.
  • But youth are not geeks: 59% of 8-14 year-old kids prefer their TV to their PCs; only 20% of 14-24 year-old young people globally admitted to being “interested” in technology.
  • Youth audiences also want more control of what they watch and when they want it: They expect content to be on all platforms – mobile, computer and TV – and they want it to be searchable and increasingly expect it to be supplied on demand and online.

“Digital communications – from IM, SMS, social networking to email – have all revolutionized how young people communicate with their peers. We wanted to understand more deeply how young people interact with these technologies and consequently what this means for our advertising partners focused on reaching this highly engaged and influential audience,” said Chris Dobson, VP, Global Advertising Sales, Microsoft Digital Advertising Solutions.

Overview of the study’s conclusions:

  • Technology has enabled young people to have more and closer friendships thanks to constant connectivity.
  • Friends influence each other as much as marketers do. Friends are as important as brands.
  • Kids and young people don’t love the technology itself – they just love how it enables them to communicate all the time, express themselves and be entertained.
  • Digital communications such as IM, email, social networking sites and mobile/sms are complementary to, not competitive with, TV, which is part of young peoples’ digital conversation.
  • Despite the remarkable advances in communication technology, kid and youth culture looks surprisingly familiar, with almost all young people using technology to enhance rather than replace face-to-face interaction.
  • Globally, the number of friends that young males have nearly triples between the ages of 13-14 and 14-17: it jumps from 24 to 69.
  • The age group and gender that claims the largest number of friends are not girls aged 14-17, but boys aged 18-21, who have on average 70 friends.

Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground found that what kids and teens do has not significantly changed in 15 years:

  • Kids may be immersed in tech, but the things they enjoy doing most are watching TV (85%), listening to music (70%), hanging out with friends (68%), playing videogames (67%) and spending time online (51%).
  • As they grow into teens, the ranking of their favorite pastimes change: atop the list of 14- 24s’ favorite pastimes is listening to music (70%), followed by watching TV or hanging out with friends (both 65%), watching DVDs (60%), relaxing (60%), going to cinema (59%), spending time online (56%), spending time with girlfriend or boyfriend (55%), eating (53%) and hanging out at home (49%).
  • The “best ad they’ve seen recently” is still overwhelmingly on TV – and 47% of youth IM each other about “what is on TV right now.”
  • Top IM topics for 14-24s  are gossiping (62%), making arrangements (57%), talking about the opposite sex (57%) and flirting (55%), work or school (54%), and TV and music (52%).

Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground found that technology’s greatest impact has been on the depth and range of friends that 14-24s have:

  • From having an average 11 friends when age 8-14, young people speedily acquire circles of dozens of friends in their teenage years.
  • On average, 14- 24s have 53 online and face-to-face friends – and communicate with them often.
  • Many 14-24s surveyed said the different forms of communication enabled them to talk about more intimate subjects than they would have otherwise done:
    • Over half said they could talk about more things on IM than face-to-face.
    • 53% said that they could get to know people better.
    • Around 4 out of 10 said they found it easier to make new friends and felt less lonely as a result of using the internet.
  • On average, 14-24s said they had 20 online friends, with Brazilians claiming the most – 46. Communicating with their friends is a priority: Nearly 70% said the first thing they did after turning on their computer was to check IM.
  • Out of all young people surveyed, 14-17 girls spend the least time online – 21 hours per week – while 22-24 males spent the most time online – 31 hours a week online.
  • 100% of those surveyed said they communicate every time they go online.

The Circuits of Cool and Digital Playground survey found that the “technology” in and of itself is irrelevant to kids and young people:

  • While kids use mobiles and the internet constantly, only 20% of 14-24s say they actually loved technology – and they’re in developing nations such as Brazil, India and China.
  • The people least interested in technology were the Danes and the Dutch – despite saying they couldn’t live without it.
  • Apart from a few key new media terms, most young people avoided industry jargon:
    • 8% of those questioned used the term “multi-platform.”
    • 16% admitted to using the phrase “social networking.”
    • The terms they use most frequently are those relating to accessing content for free, like “download” and “burn.”
    • They also use brand names rather than category terms, with MSN, Google, and MySpace among the most popular.
    • The term “web 2.0” is used by very few people (8%) outside China.
  • Young people also multi-task to a greater extent than adults. They still generally only do one thing at a time, but are able to have more stimuli coming at them and select the one that grabs them at that moment.

“For kids and young people, ‘tech’ isn’t a separate entity now, it’s organic to their lives,” said Colleen Fahey Rush, EVP of research for MTV Networks. “They are completely focused on functionality.”

“Technology is adopted and adapted in different ways in different parts of the world – and that depends as much on local culture as on the technology itself,” said Fahey Rush.

For example:

  • Japanese young people live in small homes with limited privacy; they generally don’t have their own PC until they go to college, and they socialize away from home a lot. As a result, their key digital device is the mobile phone because it offers privacy and portability.
  • Unlike young people in other countries, Japanese kids and young people have few online friends:
    • Japanese kids age 8-14 have only one online friend they haven’t met, compared with a global average of 5.
    • Japanese teenagers have only seven online friends they haven’t met – compared with a global average of 20.
    • Japanese teens also used IM and email the least out of the 16 countries surveyed.
  • China has lower mobile usage among young people, a less-evolved print media market and a family life of no siblings, and with parents and multiple grandparents. As a result, the internet provides a rare opportunity for only – and lonely – children to reach out and communicate using social networks, blogs and instant messaging.
  • In stark contrast to their Japanese peers, 93% of Chinese respondents 8-14 have more than one friend online they have never met face to face.
  • Chinese kids inhabit a world very different from their parents, and because of that they would rather find advice and support through their friends than through family.
  • Among 8-14s globally, only in China was TV not the No. 1 choice.
  • In countries with a strong outdoor culture, such as Italy, Brazil and Australia, young people use mobiles for arranging to meet, flirt and take pictures of their friends.
  • Northern Europeans take a practical approach to technology but are perhaps the most immersed in it. Out of all nationalities surveyed, young Danes are most likely to say they can’t live without mobiles (80%) or TVs (75%), and young Dutch most likely to say they can’t live without e-mail (85%).
  • Despite the plethora of new communicating tools, a majority in almost every nation expressed a preference for meeting in person; Japanese, Chinese, Poles and Germans scored higher than others when it came to wanting to communicate online; only Chinese youth actually expressed a majority preference for texting over face-to-face meetings.
  • German kids age 8-14 use the internet the least of all countries studied and were also the least likely to view it positively – only 25% of German kids said they loved the internet (likely linked to a high degree of parental supervision) – compared with 73% of Dutch kids.

About the study: Circuits of Cool/Digital Playground used qualitative and quantitative methods to reach18,000 “tech-embracing” kids (8-14) and young people (14-24) in 16 countries: the UK, Germany, Holland, Italy, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, the US, Canada, Brazil, Mexico, China, India, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Some 21 technologies that have an impact on the lives of young people were studied: internet, email, PC, TV, mobile, IM, cable and sat TV, DVD, MP3, stereo/hi-fi, digital cameras, social networks, online and offline videogames, CDs, HD TV, VHS, webcams, MP4 players, DVR/PVRs, and hand-held game consoles.
 

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