The Results: Two Days Without Cell Phones and iPods

About a week ago I mentioned that my students were going to give up their cell phones and iPods for two consecutive days. They didn’t really want to, but it was a class assignment. Since then many of my readers have asked for a follow-up of what happened when they went cold turkey.

At the heart of the assignment was to try and determine how this cell phone/iPod generation coped and what media they turned to.

Did they turn to radio?

More TV viewing?

Here’s what we learned:

1. My students could rather easily live without their iPods. To them iPods are today’s radio, but they do the programming. Their playlists are often very short (Steve Rivers, please feel vindicated) and they are often impatient with their favorite songs cutting them off and prematurely shuffling in mid-verse. Still, the iPod was universally deemed non-essential – at least for the purpose of this experiment.

2. They are addicted to their cell phones. This was the toughest part of the assignment which most of them put off starting until the last minute (nice to know nothing has changed from other generations). To a person, my students felt disconnected for two days. Their friends grew frustrated and some complained – adding to their anxiety. And anxiety is the word many used to describe two days off the smack. Some parents were concerned because they could not easily reach their kids on speed dial – and after all, these same parents have enabled this generation to be tethered to them as well as to their peers. One student said, “I had to stay near friends who had a cell phone”.

3. Many students don’t wear watches and claim to use their cell phones as a watch (miraculously, none were late to their presentations). Others said they missed having something to do – to fiddle with their phones, check text messaging and feel connected.

4. Only one person reported increased radio listening but didn’t seem all that happy about it. TV viewing didn’t increase. Students found themselves using their laptops and PCs to watch YouTube. Or listening to iTunes, watch TV shows on their computers and rely more on Facebook, the social website, to feel like they were still connected.

So students could easily live without their iPods, but were near nervous breakdowns to get their cell phones powered up again. In other words, for them it was a long two days.

Radio didn’t do well even when cell phones and iPods were cruelly taken from these Gen Yers.

Being connected is the key issue.

The next generation is not out protesting the war or fighting for civil rights as baby boomers – the ones who still market to them – once did. But it is important for this future money demo to feel connected with others. Some blame it on their ADD, and others on their parents (baby boomers) who had no small part in making them the way they are.

This could be a bitter lesson for traditional media.

As obsessed as they are with new technology and as much as they blame the iPod for their plight, traditional media doesn't seem to fully understand what makes the next generation tick.

Some thoughts to ponder (no doubt you will add more):

Traditional media has to find a home on the receivers of choice for the next generation – this would be the cell phone.

Steve Jobs already knows this which is why he morphed the iPod into the iPhone – a shrewd and timely move if you believe the results of my USC class study.

Record labels mired in their own self-pity over online music piracy need to get out of court and on the phone – the cell phone.

The cell phone is fast becoming the aggregator of media content.

Radio stations can’t expect to simply stream their stations on the phone. They need to reduce their programming to small segments that can be consumed on the fly. Gen Yers like it short and sweet. They like options. Possibilities. The boomers who program to them like content always on in one continuous loop.

Record labels can’t expect to continue their war against Steve Jobs. He won. They lost. That's apparent again from this experiment.

Nothing would scare traditional media executives more than to listen to the oral reports of my bright and engaged USC students.

But it should be the other way around.

Nothing gets me pumped more than to see the many opportunities that are coming soon to create content for people who are waiting to be addicted.

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