Geoffrey Fowler

How to Use Tech Like a Teenager

[Commentary] Enough with complaining that young people these days are addicted to their phones. The question you should be asking is: What do they know that you don't? Believe it or not, there are advantages to using technology like a teen.

I asked a handful of 11- to 17-year-olds to tell me what apps and gear they couldn't live without. They taught me to question my own habits: Why do I use email to talk with friends? Why do I only share my best photos?

I found five practices that could change how you use technology.

  1. Only 6% of teens exchange email daily, according to the Pew Research Center. They reserve email for official communications, or venues like school where alternatives are banned. Instead, teens use a fragmented set of messaging apps based on the people they want to communicate with.
  2. There's also value in not having every single message stored on an email server. The idea is to just enable a regular conversation.
  3. Today, 91% of teens post a photo of themselves on social media sites, according to Pew. The lesson for adults is that you can express things in images that would be time-consuming to write out, or read.
  4. Adults assume that young people don't care about privacy. But look closer: Some 58% of teen social-media users say they cloak their messages, according to Pew, using inscrutable pictures and unexplained jokes to communicate in code. The lesson: You can be "public" without having embarrassing things on the permanent record.
  5. And the reason teens are such avid early adopters isn't that they have an innate knowledge of tech -- it's that they aren't afraid to break it.