Sophie Morris: Teenage kicks tell all in the gadget age

Saturday 22 October 2011 23:41

Who'd have thought that the best way to get the inside track on teenagers' technology habits was to ask an actual teenager? Until this revolutionary piece of noughties market research (more details later) came to light recently, it was assumed that the media consumption and social networking inclinations of teenagers resembled adults': greedy, frantic, gullible and self-aggrandising, overly personal and constant, interminable even.

As it turns out, according to a 15-year-old called Matthew Robson, who wrote a research note on the media habits of his peers while doing work experience at Morgan Stanley, teen-agers mould technology to fit the rhythm and needs of their own lives, which are quite different to the average grown-up's day-to-day experience.

For most people over the age of 20, mobiles are for making calls, televisions are for watching and radios are for listening to. Ipods carry music that has generally been paid for. Games consoles, depending on your persuasion, are for clutching from dawn 'til dusk or throwing at your boyfriend's head, and Twitter, oh glorious Twitter, is for updating our movements in excruciatingly confessional real time.

But the teenagers are breaking rank. They listen to the radio pretty much exclusively online. They all own mobiles, but use them just for texting and listening to music, talking to one another via their games consoles instead. The common denominator? They are taking advantage of the free features on each gadget, and cleverly pooling applications so that they are as connected as the media-savvy adult without paying for the privilege.

Tech-head pioneers should be jumping for joy. This is exactly why we pursue creative technological innovation with such zeal – isn't it – so that we can make our own lives quicker and more accessible, if not simpler, and cheaper?

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg created the social networking platform so he could stay in touch with his classmates at Harvard. It may now have made him millions, but it was born of the desire to ease instant communications at very little expense to the user.

Even more remarkable perhaps than Robson's research is the calibre of the media giant who took notice of his hastily written report. He claims his insights would be corroborated by the 200 teenagers in his school year and thousands more across the country. And when Morgan Stanley published his comments they became the talk of the Allen & Co conference, an annual event for new media bigwigs held in secrecy and attended by Google's Eric Schmidt and Larry Page, Zuckerberg, Twitter boss Evan Williams and media reptiles such as Rupert Murdoch.

Do none of these entrepreneurs have any contact with teenagers, if they don't have their own? Or are the teenagers' developing their own media habits behind slammed bedroom doors no adult is allowed to open?

What the teenagers have – happily – reminded us all, is that the many entertainment and communication platforms we have were created with the user in mind, and in time the focus has shifted away from what we want and towards greater revenues – no doubt at about the same pace that Zuckerberg and co left college, grew up, and started paying for things themselves.

However, while teenagers are canny to use their games consoles for free talk time, they too will have to learn to pay for music and other content like the rest of us, to safeguard its shelf life.

Still, none of this explains what a 15-year-old was doing spending his holiday inside a bank instead of hammering that games console.

Scarlett's family way

Has Scarlett Johansson sought advice from Angelina and Madonna on adopting an orphan? The actress seems an unlikely candidate to join the exclusive ranks of the superstar adoptive motherhood, but her husband, fellow actor Ryan Reynolds, has announced his desire to adopt in an interview with US Glamour. Angelina and Madonna have plenty of experience in creating one's own rainbow family. If they put their heads together they could knock out a manual on the topic, bless it with Kabbalah water and sell enough copies to save more than a handful of orphans.

Unusual and quite indefensible

All power to Jenny Brown for devoting her youth to a successful and much loved career in academia. Unfortunately for Brown, now 72, she didn't decide to follow up her other ambition, having a child, until she was in her fifties. By this time, Brown's biological clock had already chimed its last and she was unable to conceive naturally.

She has since spent £30,000 on seven rounds of IVF in Italy and America and is now gearing up for another round in one of the few countries where the treatment is on offer for women her age, which include Romania, Bulgaria, India and Spain.

People have been quick to brand her an oddball, which is not an entirely far-fetched conclusion to come to. Brown has defended herself, saying, "It's just unusual and people don't like unusual things."

That's true enough, but there is unusual as in quirky, and out of the ordinary, and unusual as in downright impossible and not a very good idea for anyone involved, however desperately one's womb is begging to be filled with fertilised eggs.

Losing your sole

When is a cheap shoe not a cheap shoe? When you've paid over a hundred quid for it and it's masquerading as a Louboutin, the red-soled and very covetable heels of choice for women everywhere – in offices, smart parties and sweaty clubs, which should cost upwards of £400. All decent luxury brands are faked, with varying degrees of success, so why is everyone so annoyed that fake Louboutins are suddenly rolling off the factory line? Is it because those red soles are so ubiquitous now, that they're as much a fashion statement as an M&S carrier bag?

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