Here’s the first thing to understand about today’s teenagers: Their cell phones are a natural extension of their bodies, as if their right arms had grown five more inches. The phone goes with them everywhere, allowing access to the Internet, to their parents, to each other and most importantly, to prospective love interests. This ability to communicate digitally is so second-nature that the loss of a cell phone is mourned like an injury. A day without text messaging, calling, photo-sharing, and playing Sudoku would be, to this generation, like a day without the use of your eyes, ears and voice. It’s not just that “Millennials,” the generation of 40 million American teens and twenty-somethings born between the years 1980 and 1993, are “tech savvy.” It’s that they see no difference between technology and their own senses. They are, in essence, completely connected.
Seventeen-year-old Shana is on her fourth phone, a Nokia 6102 from Cingular, and it’s the very first sound she hears each day. “I use it as my alarm clock,” she says. “I put it across the room so I have to get up to go get it!” Shana got her first phone when she was in seventh grade, an original Nokia roughly the size of a hoagie. These days, her palm-sized fliptop camera phone slides right into her pocket, unobtrusive until her stereo ringtone blasts “Canned Heat,” the theme from the indie film, “Napoleon Dynamite.”
These details, the specific ways in which Shana’s expectations for personal technology have evolved during her formative years, are worth considering if you’re a retailer, not necessarily so you can sell Shana a new download right now (though businesses are making good money doing just that), but so you can understand the sensibilities her generation of consumers are bringing to the marketplace. The old buy-which-product-we-say-is-best style of sales and marketing holds no sway with this crowd. Media-saturated since they were babies, they’ve heard it all before, and probably tried four different versions of it already.