Do you remember a time when you had to sit in front of a desktop computer to “go online”? Do you remember that unmistakable dial tone as you waited for your AOL interface to load? Do you remember getting kicked off the phone if someone in your house wanted to log on?
For many of us, this was the beginning of what it meant to use the Internet. If you have no idea what any of the above paragraph means, you might be a member of Gen Z (also known as iGen, Generation Z, Centennials, and Founders).
For Gen Z and many younger Millennials, their only context for accessing the Internet has been smartphones, tablets, and portable laptop computers, with access to Wi-Fi and/or cellular data. The notion of having to “dial up” to use the Internet is completely foreign to them.
Clearly, the advent of smartphones had a huge impact on all generations. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone still using a clunky desktop computer or waiting for a phone connection to check their email. According to Pew Research, 64% of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011.
But what is the “right” age to get your first smartphone? This decision is of particular importance for Gen Z and their parents, since smartphones now provide access to nearly anything, including connecting with your peers, working on online homework, playing video games, using social media, searching for information online, and having access to a world of good and bad influences, as well as the latest entertainment. Older members of Gen Z are even applying to jobs using their smartphones!
Having your own smartphone is not simply a status symbol in the way it was for many Millennials. The price of basic smartphones has dropped tremendously and affordability has increased through options such as leasing the phone, replacing voice minutes with the availability of more non-voice options, such as texting, surfing the Internet, and messaging apps like WhatsApp or SnapChat.
“The age at which you get your first smartphone is more important than the age at which you get your driver’s license,” says Jason Dorsey, Gen Z and Millennial expert and President and Co-Founder of The Center for Generational Kinetics.
In The Center’s national study, they found out that the answer depends entirely on your generation. Gen Z, for example, said that you should receive your first smartphone at an earlier age than any previous generation. No surprise there! In fact, 18% of Gen Z said you should receive your first smartphone at age 13! This would mean Gen Z more than any other generation thinks the right time to get your first smartphone is middle school.
The study showed that Gen Z is actually four times more likely to say that you should receive your first smartphone at age 13 than the other generations. In fact, the data shows that Millennials, Gen X, and Boomers on average think you should receive your first smartphone at age 18!
This is fascinating because it appears as if Millennials, the first truly tech-dependent generation, are starting to view technology more in line with the way their parents do.
It remains to be seen if this Millennial attitude toward technology will continue with them looking more like their Baby Boomer parents in terms of providing technology to their kids, but it may be likely given that Millennials are having kids at an older age than previous generations.
We believe that as smartphone usage becomes ever more integral to basic functions in our society, it will continue to become completely normal to have access to these devices at a younger and younger age. It will eventually be commonplace for elementary school children to have them!
Read all the surprising findings from our national study on Gen Z and technology here.