Children are the future - what are they saying
We recently met with a group of sixth-form students to get their views on the digital landscape – everything from viral content, influential people, consumption habits. Today’s youth are the future writers, designers, developers and innovators who’ll grow up and change this landscape, so can their views shed any light on what directions they might take it in?
Based on our conversations (facilitated by their teacher), we’ve drawn together a few key points of discussion that were raised.
‘We’re on viral content most of the day.’
Students estimated that they spent three to six hours on viral content each day – mainly Vine or YouTube, in particular, for the latest viral features (YouTube is ‘the biggest’ platform by their account). They told us that they can do other things while consuming such content.
Digital usage in general is ‘unbelievable’ – it’s slowly increased to be present in every aspect of our students’ lives. It’s automatic now for tools like Google to be incorporated into lessons (deliberately or not) by both teachers and students.
‘There’s a competition of who’s seen what first, and who has the most knowledge…the amount of content is exhausting.’
In a culture of frequent updates and instant gratification, trending is a huge issue and a source of frequent competition. Teenagers will always feel pressure to conform and be up-to-date with social peers, but with an increasing amount of content available (it’s ‘like a black hole’) it’s difficult to stay on top. Everything is moving faster.
The trend is to be ‘niche’ and ‘unique’ – paradoxically, standing out is the new conformity. This is tricky and confusing, especially when there is so much to be passionate about (though extreme passion is still not as cool as being nonchalantly niche). But, there is a trend for each individual to have a ‘thing’ that they are experts on. ‘Vloggers are more influential than celebrities…you could be Zoella, but you couldn’t be Beyoncé’
The sixth-formers we spoke to had a certain awareness of their entertainment/digital landscape, including the role of the media. They know that Photoshop can be used to distort images, music production polishes natural talent (or lack thereof), and that many of their favourite video bloggers (who’ve spawned their own noun, ‘vloggers’) such as Zoella are paid to endorse brands and products – does this awareness mean they will be inherently sceptical of, or less receptive to, such marketing activity?
This is important when considered alongside the acknowledgement that they feel ‘closer’ to somebody like Zoella because she seems like a real person (compared to Kim Kardashian, who is too old and can’t relate to them). The intimacy and down-to-earth style of vloggers produces dedicated, highly-engaged fan bases.
The influence of vloggers goes beyond their online existence (an effect of social media recently discussed in a comprehensive IPA guide and report, ‘The Short Guide to Measuring Not Counting’). A couple of students mentioned the Swedish gaming vlogger PewDiePie, whose nonsense language and ‘random’ words are starting to be heard in conversation – and, of course, the rate at which such language can be adopted has vastly accelerated.
However, the content vloggers produce is often unedited (or simply cut), and goes through little to no approval process. This is sometimes necessary to quickly produce content that is then just as quickly disposed of – but how has it affected the quality? Does such a quick cycle of see-scan-dispose make us lazy in our viewing habits, encourage a shorter attention span, or engagement only on a shallow, surface level?
‘Personality is becoming bigger than looks’
Celebrities who are comfortable demonstrating their personalities are more likely to remain popular. This isn’t down to celebrities being associated with particular eras – Beyoncé is still a familiar figure because she is visible and has an active presence on new channels, such as Instagram.
Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Watson are also praised by this particular group. Emma Watson has gained respect recently: our students like that she has moral values and are aware of her work in fighting for gender equality. Following the lives of Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber are more of a guilty pleasure.
‘Anyone who posts a photo is influential’ (or has the potential to be)
There is no formula for viral content – anything can suddenly become popular and is catapulted into the public eye.
The widespread use of tools such as Photoshop to doctor images is known and assumed. However, this can have a binary effect – Photoshop becomes a default defence mechanism and can warp the understanding of the fact that some people are simply lucky and do happen to be slim and beautiful in reality.
It is known that the media interprets information with specific angles, but a lack of consistent points of reference makes it difficult to know who, or what, to trust - ‘anything can be a headline and be twisted’, everything could be a lie, so it’s hard to know what you can believe.
Authoritative tones blend with contradictory content, meaning that what is pushed towards young people is incessantly changing – the mixed messages are frustrating, and it’s ‘too tiring to keep up’.
‘It’s so easy to say the wrong thing’
This is surely a sentiment that most teenagers are familiar with already – with the permanence of online presence it’s now easier to be caught out, for words to be remembered, and for others to comment on what they disagree with. In an ideal world, this would lead to healthy, respectful debate – but, there is, of course, much evidence to the contrary.
Grammar pedants, morality preachers and self-righteous commentators are everywhere, poised to assert their views on anything said in error. Does this mean that public online media is lacking in space for young people to experiment, to try out different views and think about who they’ll be in adulthood? This is, after all, a crucial age for experimentation and self-discovery.
These views aren’t, of course, indicative of the demographic as a whole, but are extremely interesting as potential signifiers. While some perspectives may change as teenagers mature and insecurities are confronted, looking at their consumption habits and how they approach, receive and perceive new platforms and the existing landscape can be incredibly insightful.
As digital natives, our teens are almost instinctively aware of the differences in both new and traditional media – this reinforces how much thinking is required to ensure marketing messages are accurately communicated, using the most appropriate channels for respective audiences.
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