Does It Really Matter Which Generation Spends More Time Online?

While teens and Millennials are often depicted as being mobile obsessed, it seems older generations are more likely to have a hard time disconnecting.

A dominant narrative in the social media space is that teens are driving the growth in social networks because they are always online. Indeed, we’ve seen reports that indicate teens and digital natives do everything online from mobile devices. But are they the ones most distracted by their mobile devices? Analysis from Price Economics paints a different picture.

While many Millennials agree their smartphones can be a distraction, 66 percent believe that they’re a source of relaxation and leisure. But smartphone use can be problematic when it begins to drain productivity or distract from the important things. Social media can even cause us forget the very things we’re trying to document.

However, according to Nielsen data about device use, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers use devices 5 to 12 percent (respectively) more often during meals than Millennials, and 7 to 14 percent more often than teens. While the data is based on general technology use, and not smartphone use specifically, it’s still a strong indicator of distraction.

Most adults are obsessed with checking emails, according to many reports sourced by Price Economics:

Over 50% of employees check their company email over the weekend and before or after work. Another (survey) found that 40% of employees think it’s fine to respond to important work emails during family dinners. … Whenever you read or hear something about teenagers’ obsession with Snapchat, remember to compare it to adults’ email addiction. Nearly 60% of adults check their work email while on vacation, and 6% have checked their email while a spouse is in labor. Another 6% have checked email at a funeral, and 10% at a child’s school event.

Much of this stems from a preoccupation with response times. Older users are obsessed with regaining productivity lost to social media, while teens and Millennials’ productivity is generally directed towards social media in the first place. But with increased mobile access, it seems that even more users are becoming addicted to devices generally.

Perhaps there is wisdom in engaging in a digital detox. However, it may be more important to realize that our demographic models are too broad and make too many assumptions about certain population groups. Detailed data, narrow targeting, and understanding audiences will always trump assumptions.