Generations online: does age still matters?

Castells (2002) described interactive society as a new social process, both as a community and isolation phenomenon. After Rheingold (1996), Castells argues that virtual communities can be seen as structures that follow the Internet dynamics, but still respect traditional sociability.

Mobile Internet access massification makes it easier to be part of this virtual dynamics. Contemporary media results from electronics, digital and multimedia convergence, creating a global platform of real time communication and social interaction. World geography has also been reorganized. A worldwide audience has access to a greater variety of cultural products and media contents, provided by many sources from different locations relating on-line and off-line structures of our lives.

Generations use technology differently and relate with media combining earlier and modern approaches to the same old activities: communicate, work, relate with each other and get information

People immersed in an online environment have been raised and educated in the digital era, using all kinds of digital and mobile devices to communicate, interact, work or entertain themselves. Older adults and retired people are still bonded to analogical media, using online media and digital devices as a compliment for their social, personal and professional activities. Online and traditional media are stressing out their definition by virtue of generations: media were shaped by digital settlers but are mostly used by digital natives, who are also able to define the way digital technologies are being developed (as defined by Prensky, 2001). This group lives their lives online and has a set of common practices mediated by digital technologies, such as social interaction or media consumption. They are also considered “cellular generation” by the way they use cellular phones as a multifunction device, essential to their daily lives. The generation of 18-24 grew up in a context of social change, result of major developments that produced technologically advanced equipment and devices that were integrated in their routines very early on.  If much of their lives are spent online, the computer and cellular phone are the tools of their daily lives. Some of them state that have “never had a mobile phone that only allowed them to make phone calls” A student of mine in Facebook, talking about Blackberry). Digital natives are experiencing media in different ways: they are multitasking and very creative, being able to develop or share their own media contents, controlling information by reshaping it, since media has become an on demand experience. Nevertheless, we find people from different ages fitting these categories, establishing different approaches to computer mediated communication processes by analysing a targeted audience, technology and use factors.

The eMarketeer report (Philips, 2010) shows that between 2008 and 2009, there was a large increase in users aged over 44 years in online social networks, particularly Facebook. Between Millennials, Generation X, Boomers and Matures it is noted that the last two generations were those that increased their participation in social networks.

Socio-demographic features should be related to experience with technology, such as sex, age, income and education, to evaluate consumption, actions, and attitudes about online media in different levels of technology experience, through the length, frequency and intensity of Internet usage. The use should be today the main concern, distinguishing different kinds of Internet users, technological profiles instead of generational identities.

As most digital natives, we can easily find digital immigrants that fit in the learners and creators categories that Palfrey & Gasser (2008) explored: learning instruments available online allow people to autodidact; the overflow of information has led to a constant need of creation, by incorporating, editing or simply sharing the large amount of online data in circulation. Digital narratives allow this participation in new media, to foster, share, interact and react to online content. This ability to innovate allows single people to improve sharing tools, enlarging online sociability, or on a deeper level, to develop new tools, sites or services: Shawn Fanning’s Napster, Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook or Steve Jobs Apple creations, like iTunes. Writing also about younger generations, Tapscott (2009) approaches the relation between young people and technology, highlighting the notion of “relationship generation” to which sharing contents of all kinds is part of their daily activity, rejecting traditional hierarchy to a collaborative environment both in personal, social and professional life. But as we’ve come to see, although it is the younger generation who leads to way in this context, the collaboration, co-innovation, customization, multi-tasking and prosuming is a socio-cultural phenomena evolving all of us, regardless of age, depending mostly on levels of technology experience and Internet usage that shape kinds of Internet users and technological profiles.

Does age really matter, when defining media consumption?…


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