“You made calls from a box!”
The lighter side of your generational digital divide

It wasn’t that long ago (no, really) that video game fun involved two small oblong ‘bats’ hitting a small square ‘ball’ across an otherwise blank screen. The game was called Pong, and it seems about as far from Call of Duty as it’s possible to get.

And the funny thing is, you may have employees in your office who once stared at Pong with a sense of wide eyed wonder, and who later excitedly loaded games onto 16kb home computers from a cassette. If they weren’t gaming, their idea of fun was a portable music experience that involved a ghetto blaster balanced precariously on someone’s shoulder.


A game of Pong on Atari 2600

At the other end of the scale, you might have younger employees who can’t remember a Nokia phone, let alone a black and white telly. They recoil in horror at the thought of a TV with only four channels and having to get up to change over from BBC1 to ITV.

Which is all, well…pretty great, actually. It’s now possible to have up to five generations in the same workplace, which is probably a very healthy thing. Mixing the wisdom and experience of age with the ideas and energy of youth might just be the perfect recipe for success.

It also throws up some fascinating contrasts, as we discovered when we analysed the results of our technology generations quiz. We’ve discussed the business implications elsewhere, so these insights into the generational digital divide are just for fun.


Phoning a friend (but how?)

The first mobile phones arrived at the end of the 1980s, but they were as big as house bricks and as pricey as houses, so hardly anyone had one. Instead we used landlines, so it’s no surprise that 63% of our respondents made their first call on a fixed line home phone.

What’s perhaps more of a surprise is that the second most popular choice was the phonebox (26%). That might reflect the age of many of our respondents, or the fact that nobody wants to talk to their mates when their parents are trying to watch the Generation Game in the same room. The great disadvantage of wired landlines (as they all were, back in the day) is that, however personal your conversation, it happened where the phone was or it didn’t happen at all.

At the other end of the scale, a very modern 3% of our respondents made their first call on an iPhone, while the same number used a classic Nokia 3210. A trendy 4% used a flip phone, a mobile with a clamshell design that was very popular for a short period in the early 2000s.


Staying informed

Nearly a third (30%) of our sample gets its news from social media which, given concerns around ‘fake news’, might be a bit of a worry. Meanwhile, 28% get their updates from news websites, 13% from news apps, and just 5% from actual newspapers. As you’d expect, digital news gets less popular as respondents get older, with 48% of Generation Z (1995 – ) receiving news on social media and 45% of Traditionalists (born pre-1946) preferring the TV.


Enjoying a page turner

Given our reliance on digital technology, you’d think the good old book would be on its last legs, but that’s not the case. Far more of our respondents (41%) buy real books from real stores than opt to download them to a Kindle or similar (21%). Fewer still download to tablets or phones (10%), listen to audiobooks (7%) or borrow from a library (4%).

The printed page does well across the board, with 37% of Millennials (1981 – 1995) preferring real books and 30% opting for Kindle versions. Strangely, an older generation – the Baby Boomers (1946 – 1960) – were split on the issue, with 50% opting for each. But the most surprising finding of all came from Generation Z, 37% of whom prefer not to read at all.


Zapping and blasting across the digital divide

And so we come full circle, right back to Pong. In this category the fact that 48% of Traditionalists never had a games console is perhaps less surprising than that 52% did. This was a generation growing up (at the latest) in the 1950s, so the gamers among them must have been a patient bunch. The first console arrived in 1972 (and – you guessed it – came preloaded with Pong). Our Baby Boomers wouldn’t have anything to do with that sort of nonsense though. None of them admitted to ever owning a console.

Our most popular choices as far as first games consoles go was the Atari 2600 and Sega Megadrive (go Sonic!), stalwarts of the late 1970s and late 1980s respectively, which both got 24% of the vote. More familiar names like Nintendo DS and Xbox One were only the first consoles for 9% of respondents.

So what does all this mean? Not a vast amount, we’re happy to admit. But maybe it reinforces an important message. We’re all from different technological generations, and as digital tools and services march ever onwards, some of us might require a bit more help keeping up.