5 Things You Should Know About Teens and Tech

Teenage girls using a computer

The O’Reilly TOC (Tools of Change for Publishing) Conference took place in New York earlier this week. The conference was aimed at publishers of both the dead-tree and electronic variety and its purpose was to examine how new technologies are changing publishing. You can find out more about TOC on their “About” page as well as by looking at the conference schedule.

The people at the Publishing Trends Blog attended TOC and blogged about a session they attended titled Youth and Creativity: Emerging Trends in Self-Expression and Publishing. The speakers, Evangeline Haughney of Adobe and Bill Westerman of Create with Context, spent time observing teenagers involved in “interesting self-expression activities” and who were creating digital media to be shared with people outside their immediate circles of friends.

The five big things that the people at the Publishing Trends Blog took from the session are summarized below:

  1. Teens grind through many different technologies quickly, not as a “life event”. They use tools and tech for a specific need and move on.
  2. Teens concentrate on the tool’s immediate outcome rather than the tool itself. The example used in the article is that they don’t ask “How do I use Photoshop’s masking tool?” Instead, they ask “How can I create a cool rain effect?”
  3. Teens learn by asking for help from their more skilled peers and observing and emulating them. They’re asking for help, but from their own community rather than from the adults.
  4. Any niche site can become a social hub. It’s not just Facebook – any sites whose topics are focused around a specific interest provides a place to craft an online persona and get a sense of belonging.
  5. They’re not using the newest, fanciest technology. Most of the teens surveyed were using older machines and software – probably “hand-me-downs” from their parents.

While the presentation was aimed at publishers looking to reach teenagers, I’m presenting this article to you because I think that the lessons from the presentation are equally useful for anyone who’s trying to design software for teens and young adults.