What Does the Digital Generation's Tech Fatigue Mean for Content Providers?


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Article ImageThey started graduating from college and entering the workforce around 2002, according to most sources, although the precise dates for when the millennial generation (aka GenY or Digital Natives) starts and ends vary quite a bit. Technology has always been part of their world. They have always had multiple sources for information and take the ability to be connected 24/7 for granted. 

According to the Beloit College's Mindset List, this year's entering college graduation class of 2016 was "born into cyberspace." But, despite the fact that these young adults are certainly comfortable with technology, there is growing evidence to suggest that many are eschewing technology and embracing a growing nostalgia for simpler times.

Ann Mack (@annmmack), director of trendspotting at JWT, says that JWT started following the trend toward analog back in 2010 or 2011 based on a trend they had identified as "de-teching." "As our dependency on technology rises so too will our desire to dial it down, at least temporarily, so we can be present in the offline now, and see people face to face and engage with them in reality rather than in virtual reality." 

Digital Natives are even more prone to deteching, she says. And, indeed, studies JWT-Intelligence has conducted have shown that the more dependent on technology they are, the more they want to step away from it from time to time. That leads to interest in such things as preferring the "smell and feel of real books," playing traditional board games, and interacting in "real life" with professors and trainers instead of learning via web technology.

It's not that this generation, or even older generations, are abandoning digital say the report's authors Frank Rose and Paul Woolmington. But, they say: "[A]s we buy more apps, e-books and downloads, and as digital screens become our default interface with the world, we seem to increasingly seek out physical objects and experiences."

Christopher Sardone, a marketing analyst with TeliApp (teliapp.com), a mobile application development firm based in New York, has also noted this trend. "High-touch is certainly trending," says Sardone. It's a trend that he says is not necessarily in direct opposition to high-tech. "I believe that as the world places greater value on social interaction in business, high-touch and high-tech will blend and complement each other." There is, says Sardone, "an increasing demand for online services designed for the purpose of bringing people together and that trend is likely to persist."

This is important information for content providers. Far from suggesting that they must transition entirely to digital delivery, the yearning to sometimes back away from the screen suggests that a more balanced approach may be most appropriate.

"You just have to be able to deliver content in a variety of different formats and you have to be very conversant across all of those different platforms and realize the attention spans across all of those platforms," says Mack. "So, the content that you deliver on a mobile phone might be a very abbreviated version of what you would present online, and even more abbreviated is what you would present offline." So, she suggests, offline content might represent the longest form "and then, online, you can add layers of interactivity to it such as video and data visualizations and then on mobile you present a bite-size version of it."

As always, content providers need first to fully understand their audience and their preferences, based on reality not supposition. Those preferences may be complex and sometimes conflicting. Maciej Fita, SEO director with Brandignity, says: "I am GenY-along with many of my peers and friends-and most of us still like picking up a book rather than a Nook, a magazine rather than an iPad. There is a certain amount of satisfaction when holding a physical product in your hand. With that said, I will never pick up a newspaper-all my news is digital and I love it." 

David Lingg is VP of technology integration with ANCILE Solutions, Inc. in Baltimore. While the company delivers training through technology, Lingg notes that "what we've always tried to do is not lead with technologies."

In his world, the world of delivering training to workers to increase productivity and performance while driving engagement, Lingg says that the move has been to deliver learning in "snack-size" bites rather than multiday training sessions. Similarly, suggests Sardone, when it comes to content, "short, time-sensitive content that holds little long-term value-like  news articles-are better for tablets and e-readers than lengthy content that will be used frequently and continuously over a long period of time." 

Personal preferences and trends tend to be cyclical, and that is no exception in the world of information consumption. As one trend ebbs, another flows. "Physical mail is becoming more and more of a novelty these days," Mack points out. Because of this, she suggests, "[Y]ou're more apt to read what comes in the form of a physical letter or brochure these days." For content providers, the key is remaining aware of the many options available and finding the right mix of options to meet the constantly evolving needs of their audiences.  

(Image courtesy of Shutterstock.)