Are teenagers the main drivers of today's technology innovation?

Listening to the speakers yesterday at SunLIVE06: Telco, Media & Entertainment, a one day conference and technology exhibition held in London (blog here), I heard several of them make reference to how teenagers have now become the driving force behind technology innovation.  This is depite the fact that in most developed countries, as a demographic group they are declining as a proportion of the population and have lower disposable income levels than other young adults.

I thinks its fair to say that many of the delegates taking part like myself, were first exposed to computing as teenagers either through the Sinclair ZX81, Acorn BBC or IBM PC 5150 .  Nowadays computing is an intergral part of everyday life from central heating controls in the home to portable media players.  One of the speakers suggested that the reason that technology is so widely embraced among teenages is that it enables them to escape the control of their parents.  Remember as a teenager the fear of ringing up girlfriends and telephonne being answered by their father or older brother?  Okay, maybe not then. But SMS text messaging, instant messaging not to mention email has transformed communications between individuals.  This is impacting the consumption of media.

Increasingly, instead of broadcast channels or themed programming, consumers now want to be treated as an audience of one. They also want to be part of, even particpate in the latest trend or fad.  A year or so ago, it was suddenly 'cool' to wear a coloured plastic bracelet.  A few months later they were seen as being rather 'naff'.  For technology companies that have R&D cycles stretching out over many months or years, this presents a particular challenge.

Most speakers agreed that in future, its likely that the mobile handset will become a multi-functional personalised device combining a mobile phone with a media player (able to display live content and download files), mobile payment wallet, GPS navigational tool, personal records file, e.g medical history, as well as a Web browser and email client.

As the group that most heavily uses the non-voice functionality of their mobile handsets, teenagers are likely to remain the 'early adopters' of many new mobile technologies that in turn will determine what and how content is delivered over the network and then how it is monetised.

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