A view from Sue Unerman

'The young are a different species'

Mark Earls thinks that this is nonsense. In fact, "The young are a different species" is Earls' number two nonsense thing in his recent Twitter...

The brilliant author of Herd has compiled a list of marketing ideas that are doing the rounds that he thinks are rubbish. I agree that his number one nonsense that "TV is dead" is patently nonsense. I agree with The Herdmeister that number two is a wild overstatement and generalisation. Yet it is worth thinking about as changes in technology do affect us. Maybe, just maybe, the young are a little bit different to the rest of us.

You see we do change because of technology. Human evolution was radicalised by the adoption of cooking food over a fire. This made food more easily digestible, which meant that we had more time to do things other than eat. Cooking with fire changed our bodies, our brains and our use of social time. In Catching Fire; How Cooking Made Us Human, Richard Wrangham, the professor of biological anthropology at Harvard, argues that cooked food was the turning point in the development of human physiology.

If fire helped us evolve, hand axes changed our hands. Newly discovered bones from 1.4 million years ago show the development of an evolutionary advantage in the third metacarpal. Humans with it could use axes more effectively.

Brian David Johnson, a futurist at Intel, explained recently at Wired's get-together at Burberry how books changed our capacity for oral memory. Before we had them, we had to remember and retell all the stories around the campfire. Subsequently, we could write them down and read them, which has meant that our ability to memorise epics is diminished.

Now the internet is changing our ability to remember stuff again. There’s a lot of debate about whether the internet is making us dumber or smarter. What is clear is that it is changing us and changing the role of education. (What do you need to memorise anymore?) The enormous change in the ready availability of information and opinion is already making us challenge long sacrosanct communication conventions.

There is every chance that the young will be a slightly different species. While human drives and motivations are essentially unchanging, human behaviour and expectations will evolve.

Let’s just take one media example. Most of the current mature viewing audience have been trained to wait a week for the next episode of a much-loved show. Yet if the series is filmed and finished (not live), will the young be able to tolerate it being doled out to them at the pace that suits the content owner, ie. over a 22-week season? Or to put up with a delay in viewing a show that has broken earlier in the US?

Perhaps viewing levels will be effected by the loss of the capacity among the young for delayed gratification on an evolutionary basis? There could be implications on media consumption, shopping behaviour and interests that will effect mass markets over the next decade. With the rise of the Millennials in the workplace and as consumers, that generation who have never known life without the web, we do need to think differently about problem-solving, ways of working and how to communicate.

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom

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