I had the good fortune of spending a lot of time with my extended family this past holiday season. A group of twelve with ages ranging from four to eighty-plus were shuttled down to DisneyWorld.
"Are we having fun yet?"
It was endearing to see my youngest cousin's eyes light up as we explored the amusement park in between her bouts of crying. However, my next youngest cousin, age thirteen, did not share this same sense of wonderment. Instead, he was obsessed with maximizing the number of likes on his Instagram photos. The eldest among us, the young Baby Boomers were also stuck on their phones browsing WeChat. Although the samples sizes are small, each generation had a different relationship to their phones, but used their phone no less than any other group.
Generation Z kids were virtually born with their smart phones in their hands. They think Facebook is too confusing, but as they enter HS, they'll be forced to use it. Sorry kids. Facebook is the New Linkedin (which is the New Email). After getting off of Aladdin's Magic Carpet ride, we went to go cool off by getting Dole Whip, pineapple flavored ice cream. As soon we got the Dole Whip into our hands, my twelve year old cousin was taking pictures to post to Instagram. He continued to edit, filter, and post Instagram photos ASAP. I quizzed him on his strategies to garner more likes on Instagram and he talked about how specific times during the day were better and worse, how he had multiple accounts to drive traffic (read: SPAM), how he'd use Instagram Direct to organize group chats, and would add hashtags on hashtags on each photo. While older folks might share that they ate Dole Whip in casual conversation around the water cooler, he wanted to share in real-time. Just goes to show that internet really is everywhere.
Millennials grew up on a desktop computer. We might be able to put their phones down while waiting in line, but probably not. We talk mostly with friends through groupchats and Snapchat. On my own phone, I kept up with college friends in several different GroupMe's. Sometimes simultaneously sending chats back and forth with the same friends in different GroupMe Groups. To a certain extent, we're caught in the middle conscious of when we use our phones, but still trying to share things on Snapchat in the moment. We browse Facebook as a last resort and mostly while at home. We're the only ones who think it's a good idea to carry around a DSLR, the other groups stick to using their phones. We're still trying to outgrow our hipster phase.
(Yung) Baby Boomers. These folks came to internet and mobile phone late in their lives, and as a result of that unfortunate occurrence, their thumbs aren't as fully developed as the younger generations. Because of that, Baby Boomers are forced to poke at their screens with their pointer fingers. Although this trait makes me laugh, it is actually an advantage while browsing their app of choice, WeChat. WeChat employs a heavy text interface, with several layers of menus and lists that need to be carefully navigated to post the pictures and chat in group chats. A fat thumb is just not up to this task. These Baby Boomers also favor voice conversations when trying to make the smallest of smallest of small talk. They treat their text messages as an email inbox, by allowing unread messages to pile up. While I'd be compelled to tap at each blue dot, my mom has no problem letting hundreds of messages go unopened.
While these groups may have the same apps downloaded, their habits across apps greatly varies. The metaphors they bring from their previous experiences with tech inform how they'll use their phones. For me, the best moments of our trip were times when we put our phones down phones and share cringeworthy family jokes.
Thanks to Josh Lee for reading a draft of this.