This is not Gen-X or Gen-Y: this is the ‘Tethered Generation.’

When was the last time you saw a 20-year-old without a phone in his or her hands?  Ever wonder what college students are doing all the time?

Welcome to A TETHERED WORLD, a global study that found out that not only are students absolutely tethered to their phones, they are absolutely tethered to their friends on phones. In particular, mobile phones:

  • have a homogenizing effect on how students live around the world
  • created more sharing of information among peers than consuming of information
  • integrate so fully into the lives of students around the world, that they literally can’t put phones down
  • create such strong peer networks – that being a part of that network is more real than the real world

A Tethered World evaluated the mobile habits of students of 52 nationalities, attending universities in eight countries, on three continents.  Researchers had the 800 students track their mobile use over a 24-hour period this past spring 2012.  Following the day-long tracking, the students completed an in-depth survey and wrote a 500-word narrative about their media habits.


I felt that I had a better relationship with my phone, than with people around me. I felt like I was taking better care of THAT relationship, than the one of the person in front of me.

STUDENT PARTICIPANT


WHAT DID WE FIND?

1. Facebook and Twitter dominate in all aspects of mobile information use and communication. For consuming, sharing, expressing, and producing all types of communication and information, these two social networks have a dominant and homogenizing presence.

2. On mobile phones, apps are like cable TV. While it’s nice to have options, we only use a few apps. A large majority of the sample had 16 or more apps on their mobile phones but only used 3-4 apps regularly.

3. On mobile phones, sharing information and commenting on other people’s social spaces are done more frequently than consuming information. In a 24-hour period, sharing and commenting via social media were predominant across the sample.

4. Email is dying. In all cases, on their mobile phones participants were using email less than social media, texts, calling or apps.

5. Mobile phone use is predominantly about texting, social media, and apps. Reading is largely still a web experience. Reading articles or consuming information on phones is still a developing habit.

6. In the 30,000+ word reflections, students used the word addiction over 80 times. Many claimed it “impossible” to go a day without a phone.

7. While still under 20% of the entire population, tablet ownership is growing consistently across all participating regions of the world. While we couldn’t track the number of anticipated purchases, students mentioned tablet technology as their next purchases.

8. Participants, while wary of time wasting, claimed to find more news on mobile phones than any other platform, even if they did not read the news they found. Heavy users relied on Twitter to find news.

9. Of the 10% of the sample who did not own smart phones, most were not for lack of want. Students without smart phones mentioned financial reasons or parents who disallowed use. Those who made the choice not to have smart phones mentioned them being “useless,” “shallow,” a “waste,” and “sad to see” people addicted to them.

10. Apps are largely seen as vital organizational and leisure tools, used primarily for weather, maps, shopping deals, and social networking. They are rarely used as news or information tools.

11. Mobile phones have benefited organizational relationships and advocacy. Of the few positive reflections on mobile phones, a significant portion of the sample mentioned liking or advocating for certain causes via social media and text messaging.

12. For those who do consider themselves news followers, phones have allowed them to expand and broaden their information diets. The participants that reported being heavy mobile phone users also noted Twitter for its ability to expand the diversity and breadth of news consumption available on a daily basis.

13. A large gap exists between heavy and light users of social media on mobile phones, with little middle ground. Generally, participants were EITHER engaged with social media several times per hour or day, OR less than once a week. Weekly or daily users were almost non-existent.

14. Students reported, consistently, a feeling of anxiety when they had their phones in their pockets but were not allowed to use them.

15. All students, across all 56 represented countries, are doing generally the same few things. Facebook and Twitter, above all else, are the predominant tools for all information use among the participants. The predominance of these few tools are creating a homogenizing influence around the world.