On Digital, Products & Millennials

The problem with terms like ‘digital natives’ and how it’s used as an excuse for poor products.


I’ve been called a lot of things in my 20 odd years on this earth: Arrogant, sarcastic and geeky to name a few.

But the one that hurts the most has to be ‘Digital Native’.

Usually it’s uttered by someone who’s a generation or two older and never said in jest. It sits nicely between other buzzwords, like ‘bots’ and ‘IoT’, conveying a variety of things all at once but also not really saying anything at all.

I’m never sure what I’m supposed to take from the name. It’s hard enough getting someone to define digital in a way that doesn’t invite more questions.

Perhaps it’s meant to indicate the apparent ability of the <25 group (a cutoff I’ve chosen semi-randomly) to master new technologies as though we were born with smartphones in our hands. (Maybe they just aren’t that complicated…)

Or perhaps it’s a stab at the ‘high expectations’ we have for services we use daily. God knows we’ve been spoiled by the likes of Uber and Facebook for long enough. When I can summon a vehicle to take me anywhere I wish using a piece of glass of course I expect to be able to view my bank transactions in real-time. The fact that this lag is acceptable is both fascinating and astounding to me.

Can you imagine sending an iMessage and being told it’ll be with the recipient within 2 hours? Welcome to banking. Our expectations aren’t high; you’re expectations are just very, very low.

You try being able to access any song, movie or TV show you want and then being told you can’t download your study materials without a desktop PC. If it’s easier for me to check Facebook than it is to access a research paper, guess who’ll win the attention game!

But that’s all besides the point. Focusing on ‘Digital Natives’ provides companies with an excuse.

“How can we possibly satiated these ungrateful beasts?” Solution to this all: Why not simply call us people? Here, we’ll test it:

Digital natives have high expectations.

becomes…

People have high expectations.

Yup, still makes sense.

By removing the jargon we get at the real issue. Companies have forgotten the real users of their products: people. And people have high expectations.

So next time the phrase comes to mind, try to restrain yourself. If the problem is hard, say it’s hard. Don’t hide behind us ‘Digital Natives’ and our high expectations. I’m sure you don’t like being called ‘Baby Boomers’.

Written on May 3, 2016