Disruptive innovation: How the iPhone has shaped a new generation.

A new book says that not all of the “shaping” has been good.

According to the WSJ

Over the weekend, Jana Partners and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System — which control about $2 billion of Apple shares — sent a letter to Apple urging the company to “develop new software tools that would help parents control and limit phone use more easily and to study the impact of overuse on mental health.”

Apparently, they got the word that “obsessive teenage phone usage may be causing increased rates in teen depression and suicide and that phones are replacing old-fashioned human interaction.”

No kidding. We were all over this topic last fall.

Here’s a timely flashback …


Last fall, when Apple celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the iPhone and launch of iPhone X, CEO Tim Cook boasted:

Having sold over one billion units and enabling millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily routine …

The iPhone redefined how consumers live, work, communicate, and entertain.

I chalked it up as marketing hype, but then …

I started reading a recently released book (coincidence?) called iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

The author is Jean Twenge, a psychology prof with a specialty in “generational differences” who is credited with coining the newest generation “iGen”.

mazon link

Prof Twenge agrees with Cook’s basic claim that the iPhone has redefined life.

But, she argues, not all of the redefinition is positive … specifically highlighting the decline in in-person social interaction and a sharp rise in mental health issues among iGens.

Let’s start at the beginning ….


Prof. Twenge says:

Around 2012, I started seeing large, abrupt shifts in teens’ behaviors and emotional states.

In all of my analyses of generational data—some of it reaching back to the 1930s—I had never seen anything like it.

At first I wondered if these were random blips that would disappear after a year or two.

But they didn’t—the trends kept going, creating sustained, and often unprecedented, trends.

As I dug into the data, a pattern emerged: many of the large changes began around 2011 or 2012.

That was too late to be caused by the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009.

Then it occurred to me: 2011–12 was exactly when the majority of Americans started to own cell phones that could access the Internet, popularly known as smartphones.

The product of this sudden shift is iGen.


So, who are these iGen people?

According to Prof. Twenge:

Born in 1995 and later, they grew up with cell phones, had an Instagram page before they started high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet.

The oldest members of iGen were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced in 2007 and high school students when the iPad entered the scene in 2010.

The i in the names of these devices stands for Internet, and the Internet was commercialized in 1995.

They are the first generation for whom Internet access has been constantly available, right there in their hands.

If this generation is going to be named after anything, the iPhone just might be it: according to a fall 2015 marketing survey, two out of three US teens own an iPhone, about as complete a market saturation as possible for a product.

iGen includes 74 million Americans, about 24% of the population.

iGen is the most ethnically diverse generation in American history: one in four is Hispanic, and nearly 5% are multiracial.

Non-Hispanic whites are a bare majority, at 53%. The birth years at the end of iGen are the first to have a nonwhite majority:

And yes, even if they are lower income: teens from disadvantaged backgrounds now spend just as much time online with their smartphones.

The average teen checks her phone more than eighty times a day.

As one iGener put it: “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”

Prof. Twenges grand conclusion: “The complete dominance of the smartphone among teens has had ripple effects across every area of iGen’ers’ lives, from their social interactions to their mental health.”

We’ll dive into that conclusion in subsequent posts …


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One Response to “Disruptive innovation: How the iPhone has shaped a new generation.”

  1. John Carpenter Says:

    Hmmmm. Color me lukewarm on the “IPhone Menace to children”. I can remember my parents bemoaning how teenages spent all their time on regular phones and had no personal interaction. I look at iPhones and smartphone technology impact in sort of the same way. This is not the world of the 30’s or even 80’s. I would not expect teens (or anyone) to communicate in the same way they did then…in fact, I would be terrified if they did. In my opinion the explosion of smart phone technology has overwhelming beneficial effects on increasing communications, commerce, and improved safety. I admit I don’t have studies to back me up but to me the folks getting hysterical about the demise of old forms of communication just do not seem to get it themselves. The reports that measure this fundamental social change are using old metrics to establish what “mental health” is in this new century. I doubt the 60’s looked mentally stable to those who grew up in the 40’s. Things change and like always, some people won’t.

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