Home Generations X and Y Lead the Way in Today’s Digital World

Generations X and Y Lead the Way in Today’s Digital World

Forrester Research just released its annual survey of American technology adoption, this time focusing on the generational divide. The findings, which arose from a survey of over 37,000 participants, reveal that when it comes to the adoption of digital tools and technology, the generation gap still exists, with Generation Xers and Yers far ahead of both Boomers and Seniors.

The report delves into everything from mobile use to media consumption and PCs to social networking. The takeaway, says Forrester, is that Gen Y “lives and breathes” a digital social life, Gen Xers are masters of the functional benefits of technology, but those older are much more reserved in nearly all areas.

Generation Gap Remains

“In almost every online or mobile behavior, Gen Yers lead the adoption curve,” explains Forrester, summarizing the differences between the generations. The youngest members of this group don’t remember life without a mobile phone or a time when texting or email was unavailable. Gen X, despite having a longer “tech memory” than its younger counterpart, still rivals Gen Y in many areas. This slightly older group tends to use the Internet and computers more functionally. For example, 26% of Gen Xers go online for information about food and cooking, 61% use it for news, 65% use PCs to manage photos and 53% email photos at least once per month.

Boomers fall behind on the technology adoption curve, but spend more money on everything tech-related from telecom fees to online shopping purchases. Seniors, however, lag ever further behind. 80% still subscribe to a local newspaper, for instance. But in other ways, they’re catching up: 40% own an HDTV, one in five uses the Internet for reading news and one quarter for travel planning.

Devices: Gen X Leads

When it comes to devices – think HDTVs, digital cameras, PCs, gaming systems – Gen X leads the way, says Forrester. Their households are the most likely to have these devices in them.

When it comes to the household PC (meaning “personal computer” not necessarily “Windows machine”), Gen X and Boomers tend to use theirs for practical matters like word processing and household finances. They’re also more focused on PC health, regularly scanning for malware and backing up files.

Mobile: Gen Y Leads

Meanwhile, on the mobile front, the 49 million Gen Yers lead the other generations, using their phones for everything from product research to social communication. Along with Gen Xers, Gen Yers are the most likely group to own a smartphone with an unlimited data plan. One fifth of Gen Y uses their phone for maps and directions now, while Gen X is generally more interested in checking news, sports and weather.

85% of Gen Y sends and receives text messages, while 68% of Gen X does the same. Only 15% of Seniors use SMS, however.

37% of Gen Y surfs the mobile Web. Mobile “Facebooking” is also more popular with Gen Y, with 27% participation, compared with 18% of Gen X. Seniors on Facebook, supposedly a growing trend on the desktop, is not so prevalent on mobile – only 1% use Facebook or other social networking sites from their phone.

Overall, 23% of Gen X and Y owns a smartphone and 17% of Americans do.

Online: Gen Y Surfs, Gen X and Boomers Shop

Internet use has surpassed TV viewing for Gen Y for a few years now, but this is the first time that Gen X can say the same. Younger Boomers (45-54) also now spend equal amounts of time online versus on the Web. TV viewing still beats Web surfing for older Boomers and Seniors though.

The survey found, too, that Gen X does the most online shopping, but Younger Boomers spend the most. In fact, Boomers were the only generation that spent, on average, more than $600 online in the past three months.

Forecast: eReaders are “Device of the Year,” but Few Use

Forrester says that eReaders have drawn a lot of hype over the course of the year, but in reality, only a small percentage of the population currently uses them. However, the analysts forecast that another 6.6 million will buy an eReader by year-end. 8.3 million will buy a netbook or mini PC, though, in the same time frame.

Netbook and mini-PC purchases will outpace eReader sales until 2014, when both slow to 1% growth rates. Laptops will also decline to 2% growth in 2014.

This data seems in opposition to earlier reports from NPD that stated netbook sales have gone negative. This recently led to some controversy when the Wall St. Journal quoted Best Buy CEO Brian J. Dunn remarking on the netbook’s decline, saying its sales have been cannibalized by the iPad. Dunn later explained, by way of a Best Buy press release, that “the reports of the demise of [notebook and netbook] sales are grossly exaggerated.” It appears that Forrester agrees with this statement, given this new report’s data.

Conclusion: Gens X & Y Outpacing Others

Forrester concludes that Gens X and Y are “setting the example of how future digitally native generations will live,” with both generations “outpacing Boomers and Seniors on almost everything technology-related.”

Statements like these tend to rile up the tech-savvy Boomers and Seniors who read this blog, often leading outraged comments about the wrongness of the data. In this case, though, Forrester analyzed 30,064 households containing 37,226 individuals to reach these conclusions, a sample size which seems sufficient enough for this analysis. Any generation will have its outliers, of course, from the digitally-adept Grandma to the Gen Yer who refuses to Facebook. Plus, anyone reading this article is at the top of the curve, no matter what the technology in question is, we would bet.

Image credit, top: flickr user Paulo Fehlauer; charts: Forrester

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