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Young Australians are ‘culling’ friends, rebelling against ‘multitasking’ and defying the need to be ‘always on’, survey finds

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Young Australians may not be disowning their mobiles or leaving Facebook in droves, but they are learning how to keep social technology in check, as a report on youth marketing suggests.

The study reveals a snapshot of the four million Australians between the ages of 16 and 30 as a tech-savvy, consumerist-minded generation with a mighty purchasing power. Nearly half still use Facebook and social media more than five hours per week, but many now value strength of friendships over number of friends.

While they are taking up more old-fashioned pursuits such as reading novels or visiting museums, many of them are still driven by the lifestyle of multitasking, the need to juggle more than one activity on and around the computer, leading to sensory overload.

“Pressing pause” is the recurring theme of this year’s Urban Market Research (UMR) report – compiled by Lifelounge Group in conjunction with Sweeney Research – which makes the case for using more subtle approaches to target youth markets.

“Young people literally are doing ten things at once these days,” said Dion Appel, CEO of Lifelounge. “Pressing pause is not about switching off. It’s about temporarily alleviating the pressure.”

Dr. Cassie Govan, the co-author of UMR from Sweeney Research, elaborated on the psychological dimension to the trend.

“The pressure they are feeling to take a pause is a result of their deep-seated need to stay socially connected and culturally aware,” she said. “Falling behind isn’t an option. There’s an ever present undercurrent of anxiety around this fear of missing out or dropping off the pace. We call this ‘exclusion anxiety’ and it’s a function of wanting to avoid feeling socially aloof or culturally detached.”

The subtle side to Gen Y

Besides multitasking, the report covers many cultural trends, with insights for marketers on how to sell to a generation that accounts for $68 billion in spending power per year.

The data behind UMR was compiled from an online survey of 1,700 Australians between 16 and 30. However, report findings were also based on qualitative research that included interviews, online chats, journal entries and digital video recordings of snippets of participants’ daily lives.

To no one’s surprise, Facebook was the most popular web site among those surveyed. When asked to name the one thing “they can’t live without,” 30% said an internet connection and 20% said their mobile phones, placing higher than cars, television, alcohol or favourite clothing. Among most popular fashion brands, Nike came at the top of the list, while Nokia was the top mobile phone brand.

Yet there were other less expected findings. Fifty-six percent of participants said that they spend at least one hour a week reading a book, and more said they went to an art gallery or the theatre than a rave or dance party within the past year.

According to the study, friends and peer networks are more important to young Aussies than music for validating themselves and their likes and interests. Music had previously been the number one “defining pillar” in the last six years of the survey.

And “being a ‘geek’ is cool,” as bloggers and tweeters “have emerged as strong influencers with the authority and credibility money just can’t buy,” while “shows like ‘Glee’ made the Top 20 lists” in this year’s survey.

Still, multitasking remains widespread: 80% of respondents reported “doing other things” while online. It’s why the Lifelounge Group emphasises the need to “[balance] the demands of being constantly ‘on’ by turning to more organic pursuits” – including books, galleries, sport and the like.

On that note: keep an eye out for a rise in glee club memberships.

Other Highlights from the UMR study

  • Spending power: The biggest weekly outlay is on household expenses ($403.86), following by socialising and entertainment ($122.42) and clothing and accessories ($99.71).
  • Home sweet home: Thanks to the First Home Owner’s grant, the number of young people with mortgages has increased from 11.5% last year to 14% this year. There’s still no rush to move out of home though, with 47% of 16 to 30 year olds living with their parents (down slightly from 50.2%), 24% renting and 15% living in a share house.
  • Make me beautiful: Despite a focus on ‘keeping it real’ this year, a significant 64% of young adults said they would consider some kind of cosmetic treatment over the next 5 years.
  • Do you love me? Respondents were fairly evenly split on whether sex should mean ‘being in love.’ Only a small minority felt sex was ‘expected’ on the first date.  For those that are having sex (three quarters of respondents), they can be a little blasé about sexual health with only 45% having had an STD test.
  • The rise of the cull: A focus on quality vs. quantity has seen a ‘rise of the cull’ on Facebook – for young adults, it used to be about having the most friends, now it’s about having the best friends.  47% of people spent five hours or more on Facebook each week, with Facebook the number one web site followed by Google.

    Image by D. Sharon Pruitt

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