Survey: Understanding How Different Generations Use Technology

While it's no surprise that young adults are more tech-savvy than the older generation, a new study examines specific details of the differences that could help church leaders better understand how to get their messages to click with congregants.

Both young and old Americans are quite comfortable and dependent on technology, but to varying degrees, shows the latest study by The Barna Group, published this week. But the youngest American adults (ages 18 to 24), which Barna calls Mosaics, are the most likely to admit "gadget lust" than older adults.

More than one-fifth (22 percent) say they consider owning the latest technology to be a very high priority in life, compared to only one out of every 11 adults (9 percent) over the age of 25.

For the Mosaic generation, the study found that eight of the 14 tech activities they were surveyed about were used by 50 percent or more of this group. For the Buster generation (ages 25-43), only four of the digital activities were relied upon by half or more of them. Those four activities include email, search, text messaging and hosting a personal website or homepage (such as MySpace or Facebook).

In addition to the four activities used by Busters, the majority of Mosaics also use instant messaging, posting comments on other blogs, watching videos online and downloading music online.

Meanwhile, email and search are the only two digital activities that at least 50 percent of Elders (ages 63 and above) and Boomers (ages 44 to 62) rely upon.

"All Americans are increasingly dependent on new digital technologies to acquire entertainment, products, content, information and stimulation. However, older adults tend to use technology for information and convenience," commented David Kinnaman, president of The Barna Group.

"Younger adults rely on technology to facilitate their search for meaning and connection. These technologies have begun to rewire the ways in which people - especially the young - meet, express themselves, use content and stay connected."

The study also highlighted certain technologies gaining notable popularity among Mosaics. These "emerging" technologies, those used by at least 20 to 49 percent of computer users, include online purchasing, listening to church podcasts, and visiting their church Web site.

"For church leaders, it is notable that a minority of churchgoing Mosaics and Busters are accessing their congregation's podcasts and website," Kinnaman said. "While technology keeps progressing and penetrating every aspect of life, churches have to work hard to keep pace with the way people access and use content, while also instructing churchgoers on the potency of electronic tools and techniques."

Busters, Boomers and Elders also made purchases online in the same proportion to their group size as Mosaics.

The report is based upon telephone interviews conducted by The Barna Group in three nationwide surveys. The surveys were conducted in July-August 2007, December 2007 and May 2008, with each study involving interviews with 1,000 adults.

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