OPINION1 February 2010

Predicting ‘the rise of the teens’ in 2010


You can’t move for trend predictions at this time of year. In January 2009 journalists and other cultural commentators almost came to blows in an effort to be first to tell us we would all be using Twitter. So, while not an original concept, we at least make an effort to distinguish ourselves below with predictions for the year ahead that have a specific youth focus.

Ok, here goes:

Rise of the teens: Messrs Page, Brin and Zuckerberg may have founded Google and Facebook while still at university, but they look positively ancient compared to the new kids on the block. Fourteen year-old fashion blogger Tari Gevinson is perhaps the foremost example of the increasingly influential teen critic movement. And 15-year-old Matthew Robson caused shockwaves during a work experience placement at Morgan Stanley when he casually explained that “teens don’t Twitter” and “video game consoles… [are] a more attractive vehicle for chatting with friends than the phone” as part of his teen media usage report for the financial services provider. Increasingly, it seems, the go-to guys for youth expertise are youths themselves. And they’re getting younger.  As Facebook and other social networks ease off on privacy settings to allow for ‘real-time search’ researchers may be able to learn just as much about young consumers by poring over the material they publish themselves (online, and for free) as from more traditional research settings.

It’s what’s close by that counts: It appears contradictory at first, but as we spend more of our lives online – on an internet that, as it continues to grow, supposedly brings us all closer together – ‘local’ is a commodity that’s increasingly valued by young people. The wider world may be an exciting place.  But it’s also where the ‘bad stuff’ happens.  As in 2004/2005, the new year has begun with a devastating natural disaster that puts the man-made monetary mess of the last few years firmly in perspective. As a result, what ‘local’ may lack in terms of excitement it compensates for in terms of comfort and reassurance.  The programmers behind TwitterLocal were quick to capitalise on this trend and both Google and The Guardian are rumoured to be working on technology with similar capabilities. But with pubs closing at a rate of 52 a week where is there left to hang out? Perhaps in “stealth Starbucks”: after years of rolling out identikit stores, the American company is developing bespoke businesses with a “community personality”. If one of the world’s most successful consumer brands recognises the importance of ‘local’, others are sure to follow.

Vote with your Tweet: We expect that, as they have been hit hardest by the recession, and due to the perceived rise in prominence of the BNP, the turnout of young voters will be higher than in 2005. In order to engage with them, all three main political parties are apparently seeking to ape the new media strategy that was credited as a significant factor in Barack Obama’s election success. But which of them is best placed to succeed? Given Gordon Brown’s disastrous flirtation with YouTube and David “too many twits might make a twat” Cameron unwittingly sparking a viral craze, the Liberal Democrats look a shoo-in. But not as a result of any real innovation: they are the only major party that haven’t cocked it up already.