It is sometimes said that for a 30-year-old, going out without a smartphone is like going out without your wallet – you can get by, but it’s awkward not to be able to pay for yourself. For a 22-year-old it feels like going out without your shoes, you can’t stop feeling uncomfortable and wishing you could be back home as soon as possible. By that analogy, you could say that for a 15-year-old it’s like going out in your underwear – it feels like a nightmare you just want to wake up from
By Sergiusz Prokurat
As much as 70 percent of Polish internet users visit Facebook every day. That is one of the highest scores worldwide, with Australians (75 percent) and Italians (74 percent) being the only two nationalities with a larger percentage of heavy Facebook users, a recently published report entitled “Digital in 2017 Global Overview” stated. Granted, the statistic only accounts for internet users, and the overall use of social media in the whole of Polish society is somewhat less spectacular. Poland ranked 26th in the world in terms of active social media users, with 39 percent of Poles having active accounts, a mere two points above the global average. The disparity between the two statistics can be explained with the relatively low number of internet users in Poland compared to other developed countries. For instance, as much as 93 percent of Japanese people use the internet, as do 96 percent of Norwegians and 98 percent of Icelanders. By comparison, “only” 80.4 percent of Poles have internet access, according to the most recent data from the central statistics agency (GUS). That is still twice as much as only 10 years ago.
There is little doubt that the internet has introduced a giant change in Poles’ lives, particularly the young, who are in a position to take full advantages of the opportunities it offers. Today, 35 years of age serves as the conventional cutoff that splits the “digital” and the “analog” Poland. But the cutoff point for generation Facebook, people whose social lives are determined by their social media accounts, could be even lower.
Nicholas Carr, a Harvard graduate, in his famous book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” noted that the more we use the internet, the more difficult it is for us to concentrate when reading longer texts. It applies to both children and adults – including those who were brought up reading and for whom reading books was part of their lifestyle. “For some people, the very idea of reading a book has come to seem old-fashioned, maybe even a little silly – like sewing your own shirts or butchering your own meat,” he says and points out that internet customs affect the functioning of our brain even when our computer is turned off, because of the structure of our neural networks. And, in fact, Generation Facebook does not like newspapers and manual writing, because basically it is no longer an essential skill.
The rate at which content is evolving on Facebook and social media in general can also be overwhelming for members of the older generations. Over the past decade or so it has moved from simple text-based posts to text + visual, to videos, to live video. Alarmed by the prevalence of video content on the internet and their children’s lack of exposure to the written word, many parents are taking a very proactive approach in order to increase readership among their kids. Apart from books and lavishly colorful magazines for children, technology can also be an ally. The range of tablet apps offering educational experiences for youngsters is soaring, as is the market for them.
My phone and me
Today’s Polish youth, born into the times of social media, are – just like their Western counterparts – the youth of the “selfie generation.” Every fourth child aged 12-18 takes a photo at least once a day – this includes 70 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys. This data was included in a report prepared by researchers from Gdańsk University, entitled “Compulsive use of mobile phones. A detailed description of the phenomenon of phonoholism in Poland,” which was based on the results of a nationwide study conducted among 22,086 young people.
Elementary school students admitted that they began using mobile phones on a regular basis at the age of nine, junior high school students at the age of ten and a half, and high school students at the age of eleven and a half. This means that the initiation age of using mobile phones is decreasing and will probably become lower and lower. In Poland, the generation of mobile phones, the internet, tablets, online games – that is Generation Facebook – is becoming increasingly important. But who are these people?
Statistically, every fifth Pole aged 20–24 has no work and isn’t studying. It is a worldwide trend. It is similar in Turkey (32.7 percent), Romania (24.1 percent), Spain (22.2 percent) and Ireland (19.7 percent). Young people have been branded with the term “Neet,” which stands for: “not in employment, education or training.” And they are far from being ashamed of it. In fact, they often boast about it, entering on their Facebook profile under profession: “Szlachta nie pracuje” [Gentry don’t work] or an equally vivid one: “Wyższa szkoła robienia hałasu” [Higher school of making noise].
Marketing to Gen Fb
What are the aspirations of Generation Facebook in Poland? A mobile phone has become the key to the world of communication. There is Skype. And there are also other applications such as Tinder, Badoo, Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Pure. Some of them are used for communicating with others, others to show off, research information, communicate through emotions, and boast about sexual conquests or are simply about being cool. We open up an account and get access to all people with whom we have something in common. Parents, and even 30-somethings, watch with incredulity and horror when they see how teenagers today share their lives and observe others 24/7 – without censorship, embarrassment or retouching.
One of such people is Jessika Mercedes Kirschner, a fashion blogger who runs a social media empire on Snapchat in Poland. There you can see Jessika’s creations and the blogger herself. On the stairs, in the pool, at a table… Disappearing messages create the impression of momentariness and intimacy. Snapchat allows a streaming transmission from the user’s life, ensuring face-toface contact with friends. It is becoming increasingly popular in Poland. Especially in the generation called “TL;DR”(Too Long; Didn’t Read), who “do not read details” and seek content on Snapchat or Instagram, where the image is prevalent. An example of a present-day idol is Karol Poznański, called Kaiko, born in 1996 – a YouTuber who plays games and talks about gaming on his channel. Half a million fans on Facebook, over 700,000 subscribers to his YouTube channel and 350,000 watching his Instagram. For comparison, the daily Polish tabloid with the highest circulation sells fewer than 300,000 copies, while the top broadsheet, a little over 100,000 copies daily.
How many friends can a single brain handle?
Enhanced technology means an extension of interpersonal contact. However, according to evolutionary psychologists, our brain does not allow us to have hundreds or thousands of friends, for example, on Facebook. Robin Dunbar, an American anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist, became famous after conducting research on primates’ capacity to establish and maintain long lasting social links. This refers to situations in which people know each other and stay in some kind of relationship. In 1992 Dunbar raised the hypothesis that the number of social links, or “friendships,” among individuals is limited by the cognitive abilities of their brains. Evolutionary psychologists claim that our brains have not changed substantially since the Pleistocene era – that is, since we were “cavemen.” Our Neolithic ancestors are thought to have functioned best in groups of up to 148 members (where all members knew one another). According to Dunbar, our case is similar. If good old cavemen were moved from the Pleistocene era to the present day, they would lose their minds. The narcissistic culture accompanied by taking selfies, building self-esteem based on the number of Facebook “likes” or accepting strangers to our group of Facebook friends have resulted in the appearance of a new kind of social pressure which is becoming an addiction.
Although Polish marketers still do not fully understand this phenomenon, they increasingly establish cooperation with selected people online. “Generation Facebook, primarily, uses social media to seek authenticity. Having received the strength to influence brands, while watching only those that can successfully engage, providing attractive content, users themselves decide what kind of content will be consumed,” said Kamil Sabatowski, an expert at the Schumpeter Centre for Creative Destruction (SCCD), an innovation-oriented think-tank.
He noted that the effectiveness of traditional brand marketing is gradually dropping, putting increasing stress on social media marketing as the primary channel to reach the youngest audiences. Marketers realized a while back that so-called influencer marketing (or branded content) was becoming more effective. Traditional marketing campaigns started to be replaced by e.g. product placement on social channels, particularly involving influencers – people watched by a high number of social media users.