Lots to understand about teen media use

Credit: Extra Ketchup/Flickr

Photo: Extra Ketchup/Flickr

Interest in the report authored by U.K. teen Matthew Robson says a lot about how much we fret over how young people consume media.

London-based market research firm Morgan Stanley published the report, authored by their 15-year-old intern, last week. As the Globe and Mail reports today, the paper, “How Teenagers Consume Media,” has since become a minor sensation. Much has been made about the excess of anecdote and lack of research in the report, but it is clear Matthew is a remarkably articulate 15-year-old with an unusual ability to synthesize the activities of his peers.

Why the interest? My guess is a general fear that young people understand something about the Internet that we oldsters don’t.

Matthew’s comment about Twitter use among his peers is the most quoted observation. He states that while most teens are heavy Facebook users, “Teenagers do not use Twitter … They realise that no one is viewing their profile, so their ‘tweets” are pointless.” The comment follows barely a month after Nielsen’s announcement that Twitter was the fastest-growing Web brand this spring.

Huh? How do we reconcile that?

Well, 16-year-old Daniel Brusilovsky makes a fine argument as to why it’s important we not read too much into Matthew’s paper.

Twitter is a different type of social network than Facebook. Facebook is about connecting people, and sharing information with each other … With Twitter, it’s the exact opposite. Anyone can follow your status updates. It’s a completely open network that makes teenagers feel “unsafe” about posting their content there.

Teens are all about socializing with close friends — an activity well suited to closed networks such Facebook. Twitter is about spreading information far and wide to people you don’t even know.

As Suw Charman-Anderson points out, the most interesting thing is how little seems to be understood about this age group. Every generation struggles to understand young people, of course. But there is a fair bit of research about them (see John Palfrey’s Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives). Charman-Anderson cites danah boyd’s research and suggests that there’s still a strong disconnect between academics and analysts — not to mention the general public — on the issue.

The fact that they haven’t ever had a clear insight into the teen demographic would seem to imply that their existing researchers and analysts aren’t doing their jobs properly. The information is out there, a lot of it is freely available, and all that remains is for someone to read it and write the report.

It would seem there is much work for journalists here too.

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