The world's 'small data' guru explains why kids answer the phone like this...

Life Imitating Art

Are you puzzled why teens seem incapable of holding the phone normally? One of the world’s leading experts on small data, Martin Lindstrom, thinks he knows why.

Danish-born Lindstrom is one the world’s top innovation advisers, previously named in Time Magazine’s list of the ‘World’s Most Influential People’. He spends up to 300 days a year researching the everyday tasks we all undertake that often go unrecorded. The author of the New York Times best-seller ‘Small Data: The Tiny Clues That Uncover Huge Trends’, he says the change is evidence of a generational shift that can be explained by YouTubers and The Kardashians.

Martin Lindstrom demonstrating the phenomenon

Martin says that: “The difference only became apparent to me when I began working a lot with reality shows. I started to notice, from a production standpoint, that the camera team needed to hear what the person was saying when the reality star made a phone call on camera. That usually entailed holding the phone horizontally and speaking into the mic and speaker at the base of the phone, so the crew and others could freely understand what the person at the other end of the line was saying. Then, as I was doing research amongst teenagers, I noticed they were copying the same move even in making calls between just two people.”

The so-called ‘i-generation’ – those born since 2000 – were “seeing it being used so commonly by their favourite YouTubers, the Kardashians and other reality tv shows that they learned to copy it instinctively,” he says. “It’s a cool way of talking, and it has been taken up in the same ‘viral’ way as with other trends, like having your hat a certain way, not wearing socks, having the end of your belt drooping down or your shirt tucked in at certain places, but not others.”

However, despite their comfort and natural affinity for communication and social media, Lindstrom warns that i-generation’s abilities also mask deeper insecurities. “Our kids have never been so secure and insecure at the same time. They are secure in that they are really good at going in front of a camera or expressing themselves on video – unlike my generation, who generally didn’t like leaving a voice message, because they didn’t want to talk to a machine. But they are very insecure when it comes to their feelings and emotions and the future. Essentially, the more transparent we become in our society, the more insecure they have become. The more they compare themselves with others and see how they rank and what they have, the more it affects them.”

Lindstrom, 47, added that: “When I was in school I had 23 friends and every now and then we would compete in an exam. Today’s child can feel like they’re competing with 23,000 others and they know they’ll never be number one. Consequently, I believe, the concept of ordinary Facebook, as we know it, where you have 2,000 friends is going to fade out.” Instead, today’s teens ‘desperately’ want to belong to a tribe, he says. “We are seeing young people create mini, mini friendship groups online where they only have five friends, who are like-minded individuals who share their view of life and, most importantly, compliment each other.”

Branding expert Lindstrom has for worked leading firms including Lego, Pepsi, and Nescafé, spending up to 300 nights a year in stranger’s homes to observe how they live. He draws conclusions on everything from why telly viewers push harder on the remote when their batteries are running out, to the reasons for the Chinese dislike of bedspreads.

Are smartphones ruining our ability to live in the moment? Join Martin Lindstrom as he explores our technology addiction.