Web Browsing across Generations

Using the internet has become a staple of most people’s lives. Our culture has become digital and we are constantly online. Young and old, people of all kinds have picked up an online identity. That identity depends on the user’s behavior. Having observed a variety of people, I did notice that older web users are more focused on simple tasks, doing only one or two things at a time. Younger users were more active, using multiple web tabs, and frequently switching between them. These contrasting behaviors must be understood for marketers to effectively use the internet medium, at least for now.

During a recent field study of a variety of web users, it was dawned on me that his contrast in behaviors is unique to our time. As younger users get older, will they slow their internet use? I doubt it. As I observed a young man, early 20’s, browse the web, he was doing some reading on one tab, facebook open on another, and youtube’s home page. What was more interesting was how he was also using his smartphone to text his friend. I also observed a young woman’s web habits. She also used multiple tabs, but had much more open than the man. Her tabs included facebook, twitter, and linkedin, as well as several online publications. So many tabs squished together I couldn’t read the titles. Although her phone was on the table, she managed to refrain from using it during my observation. This use of the internet is fascinating, and may shed light on how to best target younger users. My study also included two older users. These folks were at least over fifty years old, but were intelligent enough to guide themselves around the internet. The first subject was leaning back in his chair, thoughtfully pondering a news article on CNN.com. He did not have any other tabs open. As he scrolled through the text and finished, he navigated back to the home page and began to read another article. After this, he typed in the url to his email, and began to read through and reply to his messages. The second, older subject was using facebook. Again, this was the only tab open. The man was scrolling through the feed and clicking on different news articles that had been shared by his “liked” pages. One was about science, another about the State of the Union address. He “liked” the science article, but not the one about the address. Being in this environment, and observing these people though a marketing lens gave me a different perspective than how I typically observe these situations.

I would be shocked if younger people end up slowing down their internet use to the degree of how older folks use it today. However, these distinct habits show that specific work needs to be done for each group when using the internet to advertise to users. Perhaps a more attention grabbing ad needs to be used to attract younger users, and a more tasteful, artistic ad could be effective with older users. These behaviors should continuously be under observation as each new generation is introduced to the internet.