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The Just in Time Generation

Driven by smartphones, young adults seek immediate info
  • May 21 2012

Young adults are no longer simply digital natives, but mobile natives as well. Their rapid adoption of smartphones is changing both how they access data and how they manage their lives. Simply put, they have become the just-in-time generation.

A new study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project identifies a new “culture of real-time information seekers and problem solvers.” Based on analysis of data from March/April 2012, the study found that 62 percent of the U.S. adult population had done some kind of just-in-time cell or smartphone activity over the previous 30 days.

Half of all US smartphone users, according to Pew’s data, had used their device in the 30 days prior to the survey to coordinate a gathering. And nearly half had used it to decide whether or not to visit a business like a restaurant. Non-smartphone owners were following this trend to a lesser degree—only 10 percent had used their mobile phone during the 30-day period to decide whether or not to visit a business. Other popular smartphone information quests included solving an unexpected problem, looking something up to settle an argument and looking up a sports score.

Millennials, unsurprisingly, were the leaders in this real-time information-seeking trend. For example, 60 percent had used their cell phone to coordinate a gathering, and 31 percent had used it to get traffic/transit info. Overall, 88 percent of cell phone owners ages 18-29 had performed one or more of the just-in-time activities in the past 30 days, compared with 76 percent of cell owners ages 30-49, 57 percent of cell owners ages 50-64, and 46 percent of the owners age 65 and older.

Other demographic differences identified in the study include:

Men are more likely than women to have used their phones to look for information that settles an argument or disagreement: 31 percent of males who own cells have done this, compared with 22 percent of women cell owners. In addition, male cell owners (31 percent) are more likely than females (14 percent) to have used their phones to check on sports scores.

Parents of minor children are more likely than non-parents to have done several of these just-in-time searches in the past 30 days: Compared with cell owners with no minor children living at home, parents who own cell phones are more likely to have used their phones to solve an unexpected problem (40 percent vs. 33 percent); to have used their phones to decide whether to visit a local business (38 percent vs. 27 percent); to have looked up something to help settle an argument (32 percent vs. 24 percent); and to have looked up a sports score (28 percent vs. 20 percent).

White cell phone owners are more likely than minorities to have used their phones to coordinate a gathering in the past 30 days. Some 43 percent of White cell owners have done this, compared with 33 percent of African-Americans who own cells and 34 percent of Hispanic cell owners. On the other hand, African-American cell owners are more likely than Whites to have used their phones in the past month to get up-to-the-minute traffic or public transit information: 31 percent vs. 16 percent.


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