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Mobile Natives

[Editor's Note: This podcast was produced by Guy Clinch for No Jitter. The text transcript and images are below for readers to follow along with the audio.]

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In 2001 education expert Marc Prensky coined the term, "digital native." He wrote that K-12 students, “Have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.” He identifies these children as a subculture “radically” distinct from previous generations; even from those of us who may consider ourselves as “Digital Immigrants.”

Prensky shows that the differences are more profound than simply digital fluency.  He says digital natives, “Think and process information fundamentally differently.” He backs this up referring to the work of Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine who wrote, “Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures.” 

In this post I will contend that within the digital native subculture there is a further distinction that of the Mobile Natives. I will further conjecture that the mobile native subculture will bring dramatic and lasting changes for enterprise organizations. 

SFGate.com quotes a study as part of the 2010 Pew Internet and American Life Project giving us some demarcation to the beginning of the mobile natives’ generations. The survey showed that 75% of those ages 12 to 17 have cell phones. 60% of these individuals reported that they had their first phone before age 14. 30% of the 12 year olds surveyed owned a cell phone by age 10.

HuffPost blog contributor Rebecca Jackson tells of how her teenage son is so often, “transported someplace else,” in response to the ping of the iPhone in his pocket. Researcher Sarah Collins has shown that this is more than just a Pavlovian response. She draws from an American Academy of Pediatrics study to write that younger generation’s social and emotional development has been shaped by the fact that they, “have everything at their fingertips and disposal in a matter of seconds."

Defining where this is all leading will be up to the social sciences to eventually determine. The research seems to be underway. Google the term, “cell phones and youth culture" and you get to a two and a half million responses. I’m far from qualified to know what the results of this research will be. It’s clear to see, though that something big is up and that this kind of a seismic cultural and social change will have multifaceted impacts. Enterprise organizations will be swept up with that change.

Source: The Always-On Consumer - Experian Marketing Services
Source: The Always-On Consumer - Experian Marketing Services

For companies wishing to do business with these individuals some of the statistics are startling. Compared to the three percent of Talkers or the 12% of Occassionals who expressed that they want to use their mobile phones for in-store purchases, a full 77% of the Prodigy category is all in. 

This shift is causing great challenges for retailers. The nature of the experience of interacting with the product on the shelf has changed. The retailer once could consider the consumer as a captive once they had them within the walls of the brick-and-mortar. Shopping around involved costs to the consumer. The physical store put some parameters around pricing when the consumer needed to weigh the costs incurred such as leaving the store and traveling down the street to the competitor. There have been whole categories of retailers who having mastered the art of ambiance allowing them to demand higher prices because the perceived qualitative difference of the shopping experience. 

Today the price tag in the store has to be the best price available. The skyrocketing vacancy rates in shopping malls is in part due to the reality of the mobile native. The ability to shop a product online, while in a physical store, removes many of the advantages a physical store once provided to the retailer. If the product can be found cheaper, barring the impact of some other attribute of the shopping experience such as a distinctive service level unique to the brick-and-mortar vendor, the mobile native will “Showroom.”

Retail is but one example of the impacts on business of the mobile native generations. The mobility trend in general is presenting enterprise organizations with great opportunities and challenges. From selling to, employing and servicing, mobility is changing all types of relationships.  

As I struggle to find an interesting way to end this post, the trite expression, “May you live in interesting times,” keeps popping to mind. As I often do, I became curious of the origin of this term. I Googled to learn the etymology of the phrase is enigmatic. 

Many erroneously attribute the quote to Confucius.  In his travels in China, Nicolas Kristof found few who ever heard the expression. Others explain that the original meaning may adverse to a gesture of optimism or blessing; it was they contend a curse, “heaped upon an enemy.” The more I think about this the more I find this saying to be a fitting analogy to the challenges that enterprise organizations face in coming to terms with the mobile native generations. 

As the origin of the “interesting times” phrase seems lost to history, so too does the solution to the mobile native culture for the enterprise organization remain obscured by the future.

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