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Elmo!" my friend's six-year old exclaimed in my living room the other day. She'd come to visit with her folks and was sitting on the floor with a tablet in hand. Her delighted exclamation was followed by the unmistakable sound of the Sesame Street character singing in that goofy voice that many recognize.
I was curious how she found Elmo on the tablet I had just handed her, as I knew I had no Elmo videos on it. That her parents weren't surprised cued me to believe this was nothing new to them.
The Search Generation
I asked her to show me how she found "Elmo in the tablet", as she described it, and she showed me how she tapped the Search icon on the screen. In the search window she carefully typed "elmo" and excitedly showed me the list of online Elmo videos that appeared.
This got me to thinking about the profound effect that mobile technology is having on the current generation, that I've come to call the "search generation". This generation is the first to have only existed in a world where phones and tablets are commonplace. They've had phones in their hand and tapped on iPads (and the like) since they could hold them.
Since mobile devices have always been around, they have no intimidation about learning how they work. They have been able to do things with them from the get-go, and like the inquisitive kids they are have rapidly learned how to make them do what they want.
They have seen Mom and Dad "just Google it" countless times, and the search process is normal for them. Learning to search on devices is happening at a very early age, which is clear if you talk to their parents. Show them once and they hit the ground searching.
This may be the most profound effect that mobile technology will have on society in developed countries. Kids today are instinctively learning to tap into the vast pool of knowledge on the web and get information about whatever they are curious about. They're starting at a young age and will be able to find information on everything that interests them their whole lives.