Tech changes, for the tech generation, in the year of tech.

Wednesday 10 March 2021, UCAS advice

by Rebecca Hopwood

Tech changes, for the tech generation, in the year of tech.

Rebecca Hopwood

[Screen time weekly report available.]

You averaged 4 hours, 36 minutes of screen time per day last week.

Up 21% from last week. 

This was the message greeting me on almost every Monday of 2020. It was up and down, but mainly up, as I turned to my smartphone and tablet more and more as the year went on. I dread to think what it would say if it was tracking my laptop and television too.

I’m at the upper end of Millennials by most accounts, and in that sense I’m a digital native. My childhood was tech-free, but my teenage years were permeated by the explosion of the internet. Crucially, I can remember what life was like before. The current crop of undergraduates cannot. They’re Gen Z, plugged in from birth, and ambidextrous with every form of tech. 2020 would have been a strange year for them then, when big changes in the tech world were, for once, not driven by them.

This is the driver for the second chapter of this year’s Lifestyle Report, and here’s what we know:

Blended learning will demand more from devices.

There is little debate that teaching will move to a blended learning model. The details will vary by institution, and most of us can agree that there’s no substitution for face-to-face conversation, but the benefits vastly outweigh the drawbacks.

Digital delivery means no geographical boundaries, fewer lectures missed through sickness or absence, and less strain on campus facilities. Now that it’s proved to be a viable option, it’s hard to see how momentum won’t carry the trend through.

But it does make technology ownership a prerequisite, and the technology has to be good enough. In 2020, students used their laptops for video calling twice as much as they did the year before, and the same goes (to a lesser extent) for audio calling, video streaming, and playing music.

With such growth in usage, and the average first year spend already at £800 per laptop, the extra demand from blended learning will have an impact on the purchase preferences, habits, and behaviours of students.

The plugged-in generation wants out.

As technology dependency has grown, so has the fantasy of leaving it behind altogether. Digital detoxes have been popular for years, offering people a chance to get away from incessant notifications and reset for a weekend, before Monday’s digital grind resumes.

But Gen Z, the cohort which has become so ubiquitous with an always-online mentality, is heading towards a more permanent version. They are bucking their own trend, and looking to be less connected than the last. Where 74% of Millennials want to be always online, only  57% of Gen Z feel the same.

First year students are buying fewer fitness trackers, smart watches, VR headsets, and drones. And this was a trend taking place before the pandemic.

The smart tech revolution has stalled, whilst its proponents reevaluate their relationship with it. It will be interesting to see whether this was its terminal velocity, or simply a bump in the road.

Video gaming is becoming universal.

Video gaming has had a chequered history of misunderstanding. It’s been labelled as a children’s toy, more specifically a boy’s toy. But that perception is slowly being reversed by reality, and by the advancement of the technology available.

For students, video game consoles have become the entertainment system of choice. It consolidates the smart TV, the Blu-Ray player, and the soundsystem. Now, 74% of first year males and 41% of first year females own a console, and they utilise them for everything from streaming television to listening to music. And, of course, gaming.

Even Netflix’s CEO has been on record to say that his company’s biggest competitor is Fortnite, a free-to-play video game.

And when you look at the power of influencers from the video game world, their reach outstrips that of many of the world’s biggest celebrities. Even the biggest names in the games, Ninja for example, or PewDiePie, might be unknown to most of the world, but in their fanatical communities they hold incredible reach and commercial influence. 

The future of students and technology is symbiotic.

Despite the growing desire to disconnect, it’s hard to envisage a world where Gen Z doesn’t still drive the agenda of the technology world.

For brands, it’s equally as difficult to imagine how they would go about targeting this lucrative market of individuals without a digital-first strategy.

And with a difficult economic future looming over us, what role will technology play in that recovery? Will new e-learning platforms come with the ability to earn ad revenue for universities using them? Will more brands break ground in the promotional opportunities offered by video gaming?

Most of this remains to be seen, but we’ve taken some guesses in Chapter 2 of our 2021 Lifestyle Report: Technology & Gaming.