An Internet Baby Reaches Seventeen

27 Jul 2007|Lori Hobson

The first kids born into a world with the Internet got jobs this summer. Melissa, my seventeen-year-old stepdaughter, earns a paycheck and has a new Wells Fargo check card.

It must be a little disturbing to live in a household where your parents observe you not only out of parental love but also because they are interested in understanding how you use products and services as a mini-case study. In particular, I observe Melissa to understand how technology – especially the Internet and mobile devices – may shape future lifestyle and habits for her generation. Now that these kids are reaching adulthood, how will they be different?

Where I live, the kids have all had broadband access since elementary school. Melissa’s teachers gave assignments that used the Internet before the majority of US homes had PCs. And Melissa’s dad, not unlike our friends and neighbors, imbued his child with mobile devices from an early age. (So much so that one year, she asked Santa NOT to bring her electronics. That year Santa brought an iBook, which she loved anyway.) How has all this technology affected the adult she’ll become and the products and services she’ll use?

When Melissa wants to find out where to buy something, how to join an activity or participate in an event, when school starts, where to enroll for driver’s ed, etc., she uses a social networking site or, more often these days, text messages around to her de facto mobile social network. For example, she changed schools last year and wanted to join the dance team at her new school. During the summer, she looked up the boy next door on MySpace (who already attended that school) and was able to connect with his network to locate the coach and find out how to try out for the team. This approach is firmly entrenched in her decision process; it’s not just a passing teenage means of connecting like meeting at the mall used to be for us.

Melissa also buys a lot of her clothes online. First, she shares what she wants with friends via SMS, IM or email, and gets advice on which sites to buy from. She also checks out what the celebs are wearing and Google searches for these items. Some of this she does because she is confined to our house (she doesn’t have her own car yet). What does this say about how she’ll shop when she’s a mom at home with young children?

But she still goes to Borders, the brick-and-mortar version, to buy books. It is a destination and a way to get out of the house.

One way we parents shape her purchases is by only allowing her to shop sites we trust. She finds what she wants to buy and a place to buy it, but she gets approval before entering her bank card number anywhere online. There is still one special “hoodie” she wants, but she can’t find it on a Web site like eBay, Amazon, or Target – sites we use. We are instilling a preference for, or at least habits around, our own trusted e-tailers.

As Melissa teeters on the cusp of adulthood, we get a glimpse of the behaviors she is choosing to take forward with her. It is interesting to see the ones that are decidedly different than ours – such as using MySpace to find out about team tryouts – and those that she adopts straight from us – such as sticking with the family routine of using Wells Fargo for banking.

There is plenty more fodder in her behaviors for future analysis. Luckily the one thing she doesn’t reference online is my blog.

prev next