Use care discussing next-gen anything

The Times had a nice bit of analysis on some Forrester analysis of the Morgan Stanley* analysis of teen media consumption. While much can be learned from Forrester’s latest research into next-generation media consumption. There’s a bigger point to be made here. I call it Townshend’s Theory of Cultural Evolution. To most everyone else it’s the last line of Won’t Get Fooled again. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. What Forrester discovered is the new teen is a lot like the old teen.

The Times tells the story best in the opening paragraphs of the Media Cache blog entry:

During a slow week for news last summer, the investment bank Morgan Stanley generated headlines when it sent out a research report about teenagers’ media consumption, based on the musings of a 15-year-old intern at the bank’s London office.

For those who missed it, here’s a summary: Teenagers like movies, music, video games and mobile phones. They like to pay as little as possible for them, or nothing at all. They use the Internet for social networking and other “fun” things when their homework is done. Twitter is pointless.

Like many of us, the analysts at Forrester figured executives probably shouldn’t be pinning their businesses’ futures on the media musings of a single, 15 year-old male Morgan Stanley intern. How typical could any teen be that opts to work at Morgan Stanley for the summer over lifeguarding amongst bikini-clad peers? But it’s absolutely amazing how that Morgan Stanley “research” became common wisdom overnight.

* I highly recommend reading our intern firend’s media worldview. The confidence, the definitiveness he shows tells me he’s going to make a hell of a grown up analyst.

The Forrester research didn’t completely disprove the Morgan Stanley intern’s world view, but it did rein it in. Yes, TV viewing is down, Forrester acknowledges, but TV is still top dog.

The lesson to be learned? Revolution is rare. Evolution is the norm. It doesn’t matter what the context, when a producer, a marketer, or an advertiser talks about how different today’s X is from yesterday’s X, be suspicious. Be very suspicious. In my world as a software designer the alarm bells start to ring whenever someone says anything prefaced by the phrase, “but newbies…” I spend a lot of time with new users. (I loathe the pejorative term newbies — it makes them sound like infants. You’re trying to describe a class of users, not a size of diapers.) Yet most of the people so eager to school me in the wants and needs of newbies, see one just a few times a year. We are all subject to believing our infinitely small sample size is indicative of a larger population, but it rarely is.

So the next time someone tries to instruct you how to write, shoot, edit, or design a website for today’s X, check their sources. If it’s their niece the intern, take it with a grain of salt because today’s X is yesterday’s X tomorrow.

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