How online-savvy are the Millennials, anyway?

Cody Barstow at Mojo City News forwards on a snippet from a new Ball State study:

Another suprising find is that 18 to 24-year-olds spend less time online than any other age group except for the over 65s, giving the lie to the idea that young adults are the most computer literate.

Fascinating. Now first, I’ll need to see the rest of the study, including methodology, before I can get too conclusive, especially since the leap from “time online” to “computer illiterate” is iffy, to say the least. But the story at least validates some suspicions that I (and others, including Cody) have had on the subject of Millenials and technology.

One of my former JMC colleagues at St. Bonaventure routinely says that once you get past “downloading porn, IMing with friends and stealing music files,” the Millennials he deals with are nearly Internet-illiterate, hopeless even at tasks as simple as using Google to find basic information on people and events. He has more experience on that front than I do, but the assertion meshes with what I have seen. My grad students were a lot more Net-capable than the undergrads, obviously, but even they sometimes lacked the know-how I had expected. By this I don’t just mean they lacked first-hand experience with certain apps, but also that they sometimes lacked the associative skills required for using what you already know to figure new things out (triangulating your way to a solution, as it were).

Then, just this morning, I was thinking about the value I find in a couple apps I make liberal use of: Ad-Aware and Spybot S&D. I was commenting that most people know you need anti-virus software, but I wondered what percentage of people have anti-spyware on their machines, and specifically, what percentage of undergrad-aged kids know enough to go get the software (and figure out how to install and use it). My guess: not feckin’ many.

Maybe I’m wrong, and I’d love to see a poll of 18-24s ask the question because I think this is something we need to know.

In any case, it’s probably time for marketers and educators (and society in general) to step away from the assumption that U-25s are inherently tech savants. They may be very adept users of a narrow range of popular applications (like the rest of the population), but I fear their generalized knowledge of emerging technology is negligible.

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