How We Consume Media and Use Technology Across Generations

My grandmother is currently in the Chicago suburbs, spending time with family members which she hasn’t seen in a long time. Living most of her life in the northern fields in the Philippines, she didn’t grow up with technology. She owned her first television set in mid-life, and it was the kind that came in a small wooden closet with curtains. Her current TV in the Philippines was bought for her by my sister in 2007. She has a prepaid mobile phone which most of the time does not have credits since she only uses it when we contact her (in the Philippines as with many parts of the world, incoming calls are free of charge to the call recipient). New to the States, she doesn’t have any personal electronic devices, so her only interaction with technology is with TV at my aunt’s house. The best way to reach her as a consumer is through print advertising and out of home.

My mom, however, uses technology a bit more than my grandmother, but I would still call her a light user of technology. Sure, she watches TV after work, but only because it’s a way for her and my dad to relax and spend time watching and chatting. She would never just sit down and watch TV on her own since other activities take priority. She owns a mobile phone which she only uses for calls since she does not send text messages. Her Facebook account is a joint account with my dad and is primarily used as a directory to find friends than a constant task to update. She uses email occasionally, and clips interesting magazine articles. She also checks weekly sales for her grocery and shopping needs. The best way to reach her as a consumer is through email marketing and newspaper coupon insertions.

On the other hand, I love all things tech. I am a heavy user of technology in my personal life and at work. I started blogging at 15. I am a digital native, as others would classify my generation. It is hard to imagine life without technology, since I have ready access to technology at all times in the day. I own a smartphone, the most advanced smartphone invented in 2011. I have a laptop that I use to write, read and work on personal projects. My Kindle houses my recent reads. I access email and social media everywhere. However, I don’t own a TV or a landline phone. I stream TV shows online and my mobile phone serve as the primary way to contact me.

These observations are not new nor unique. It happens everywhere, but we don’t generally acknowledge it unless we take the time to notice. At work, we are constantly thinking about how consumers interact with technology and what points and venues in their lives does technology touch them. When I apply the same lens through which we look at consumers in my life, the differences with which each generation uses technology are more pronounced. Furthermore, it demonstrates how classifying people based on blanket categories and media usage is at many times inaccurate and messy. Not everyone from the Boomer generation is a light user of technology. Many would think those from Generation Joneses (as Wikipedia likes to call those born between Boomer Gen and Gen X) use more technology, but it is not necessarily the case– my mom just doesn’t feel the need to watch TV aside from social purposes, just like me. I use all kinds of technology and use them all quite heavily, but I don’t even own what many would consider as the most basic piece of consumer electronics, TV. There’s a lot of nuances between people’s behaviors that is not so easily captured with traditional consumer targeting tools.

It is an exciting time for us as consumer researchers to further understand how people nowadays interact with media and technology and how that interaction changes behaviors in new ways.

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