Teens on Screens: The Good News
A March 13 article in The New York Times suggests that maybe, perhaps, kinda sorta, cellphone usage among teens is one of the larger reasons drug use is declining among that cohort. As the article frames it: “Are teenagers using drugs less in part because they are constantly stimulated and entertained by their computers and phones?”
This is an intriguing notion. Particularly if the once casual descriptor of a smartphone as “my drug of choice” is somehow causal. The new business model moves from drug cartel to pusher to brand of choice, e.g. iPhone or Android to Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile, to SnapChat, YouTube and Facebook. Brands that offer Wi-Fi in-store feel (and feed) the rush, I’m sure.
Welcome to the emerging world of marketing of uncontrolled substances. Welcome to the world of experience-based engagement vs. consumption-based product use and replenishment. Based on my daughter’s and her friends’ behaviors, SnapChat is never used up. It’s the gift that keeps on giving. (How it makes enough money, of course, to sustain its stock price is a question best left for another day.)
Unintended outcomes can still be good ones. SnapChat has branded if not yet monetized the “paradox of distant closeness,” delivering vibrant social connection in the midst of the well-documented emotional isolation inherent to high schoolers: A time fraught with the potential ostracizing pitfalls, pratfalls and petty grievances writ large in yearbook style fonts.
Back-in-the-day, word on the street was that Big Tobacco was systematically trademarking and copyrighting various names and formulations to be prepared for the moment when marijuana became legal. That moment appears to have come and gone. According to The Times report, marijuana usage, while more socially acceptable for the culture at large, has declined among 8th and 10th graders, as have usage of “cocaine, hallucinogens, ecstasy and crack” among all teens. The trend seems to agnostically appeal to all economic and scholastic strata. Alcohol consumption is reported down, as well. Ditto tobacco usage. If you’re intent on not breaking your “streak,” you don’t have time for anything that takes your eyes off the screen.
The next big opportunity area: Hey! SnapChat: Figure out a version of the model that works for the aging cohort of heroin users, reaching epidemic proportions in multiple communities.