Do kids spend more time online than watching TV?

In a post this morning, Fred Wilson said:

“(We) have a generation coming of age right now that has never relied on newspapers, TV, and magazines for their information and entertainment. They are the net natives. They grew up in AOL chatrooms, IMing with their friends for hours after dinner, and went to school with a Facebook login. The Internet is their medium and they are showing us how it needs to be used.”

Dave Winer and others — including me on comments on Dave’s post — have pointed out that being a digital native is not limited to ones age.*

But on another front, I’d like to challenge Fred’s premise. Specifically, the notion that “(We) have a generation coming of age right now that has never relied on newspapers, TV, and magazines for their information and entertainment.”

While it may sound intuitively correct, the “coming of age” generation Fred refers to have been voracious viewers and readers of TV and magazines — and books, for that matter. While I’d agree that newspapers are perhaps irrelevant to most young people, I’m not sure there is any evidence that newspapers have ever been a “youth medium” — at least not since radio came along. As for TV and magazines, the past 15 years have been boom time for publishers and broadcasters: cable channels devoted to all ages of children have sprung up and even closed-channel networks like Channel 1, for high school students, have been a funnel of news and information for the coming of age generation. In magazine publishing, teen-oriented titles have been one of the hottest categories for nearly two decades — so much so, that the category has become over-saturated with titles. As for books, even teenage boys, who in the past have been the most challenging market, have even seen blockbuster success during the past decade. Ever heard of Harry Potter? Is that not a source of entertainment?

I’m not interested in doing a research paper this afternoon — and, please, I’ve drunk gallons of social media koolaid — but I challenge anyone to provide a link to research showing that Fred’s premise is correct: That youth today do not rely on TV or magazines for any of their information. Obviously, they are spending a bigger and bigger percentage of their time online (don’t we all) but he is claiming in his post that this coming of age generation is not relying on anything BUT the Internet. And that’s just not true. Indeed, I feel certain that TV still trounces “online” for having the biggest share-of-media-hours pie slice. Even when they are online, kids watch TV (Again, I’m not saying being online is not rapidly growing, I’m saying it’s not the biggest slice — yet.)

By the way, there is research that claims all research of childhood media usage is challenging and lacks validity and credibility.

*I do believe there is much to be learned from the study of how ubiquitous technology is having an impact on children and young people. I’ve pointed before to such programs as the MacArthur Foundation’s five-year, $50 million initiative related to this topic. Also, the Berkman Center is working on projects related to understanding the concept of “digital natives.” And, yes, as the father of a 16- and 19-year-old who have grown up in a house that, well, let’s just say they’ve never known what it’s like to be unwired, I have an in-house focus group of two Facebook users who each have 700+ friends on their accounts. So, while I’ll argue that being a digital native or having creative paradigm-changing ideas is not limited to being an “age” thing, I certainly appreciate the notion that, as a rule, teenagers are not burdened by preconceived media metaphors that older individuals try to apply to new media. Kids understand intuitively that Internet is “live,” for example, while most of my non-tech friends in traditional media have a difficulty in understanding this. Also, the notion that something could be called “user-generated-content” would never occur to someone who is a digital native. (To them, it would be like calling a phone conversation “user-generated-content.”) So, yes, I do agree that teens “get it” — as far as that means they aren’t weighted down by preconceived notions of how things work and centers of power, control and status quo. (Helpful link: Mark Glaser’s article on teens and social networking contains lots of good links.

Later: I knew I’d seen this recently, but had forgotten where: Research that claims younger adults read more magazines than those who are older.

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  • Rex:

    Those are some salient points on youth or the generation “coming of age.”

    I believe they are the Media Generation. You are right, they are heavy media users, multi-tasking mediums and communication applications.

    While Fred was over-the-top on Internet dominance, I also think he has a point in saying that the young view the Internet as its own medium, not a repurposed version of print or TV or radio. Part of that thinking came from traditional mediums trying to translate their niche online, but a lot of the times, the audience has had that expectation, too.

    I get calls quite a bit — and usually from people who sound middle-aged or older — asking how they can find “yesterday’s paper” online. I’m sure there is an expectation to see video reports on a TV station site. While many magazine Web sites have developed content far beyond the latest print issue, you will find that navigation form almost invariable on the home page.

    Perhaps, this is the generation that as a group will understand the Internet as the Internet.

    The question I wonder about is whether the value of the off-line brands will translate to the digital world. That’s not a lock, as I see it.

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  • All the studies in the world, and yet, those of us with a parental social network (both with kids in private academies and public schools) sorta smirk at these profound studies. Mainly cuz we’re buried in printed materials of all varieties.

    But hey, life’s more fun with little boxes. Little boxes = demographics. Demographics = channels. Channels = Marketing woooo!

    Also, over 30 here, rolling my eyes greatly at the previous debate. Maybe this comment can spur another meme “Are parents better than singles regarding multi-tasking?” heh. /ducks