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‘Millennials’ an always on, texting generation

"Millennials," the generation born after 1980, bring their cell phones to bed with them, admit to texting while driving and are almost certain to have a profile on social networking sites, according to a new Pew Research Center study.
Image: Brandi Eadie, 16, texts and drives
New driver Brandi Eadie, 16, looks down at her cell phone to read a text message as she drives through a rubber-cone course in Seattle. Elaine Thompson / AP file

They bring their cell phones to bed with them. They admit to texting while driving. They're almost certain to have a profile on social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook or Twitter.

You likely already know them, but in case you don't, meet a majority of the "Millennials," the generation born after 1980 and "the first generation to come of age in the new millennium," according to the Pew Research Center.

The center, which has studied that age group's behaviors since 2006, calls them "history's first 'always connected' generation" in a new report," Millennials: A Portrait of Generation Next."

"Steeped in digital technology and social media, they treat their multitasking handheld gadgets almost like a body part — for better and worse," the report says.

"More than 8 in 10 say they sleep with a cell phone glowing by the bed, poised to disgorge texts, phone calls, e-mails, songs, news, videos, games and wake-up jingles. But sometimes convenience yields to temptation. Nearly two-thirds admit to texting while driving."

Many text behind the wheel
The Pew survey, done last month, found that 64 percent of Millennials said they had either sent or received a text message while behind the wheel.

Pew said while 66 percent of Americans of all ages say they have talked on a cell phone while driving, 34 percent say they have sent or received a text message while behind the wheel.

In a survey done last year, Pew's Internet & American Life Project said a third of teens ages 16 and 17 said they have texted while driving and 48 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 said they have been in a car when the driver was texting.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia now prohibit drivers from texting behind the wheel, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Some of Pew's other findings make it easier to understand why "Millennials" are so tied to technology.

About 75 percent of them "have created a profile on a social networking site" and one in five have posted a video of themselves online. "But their look-at-me tendencies are not without limits," Pew said. "Most Millennials have placed privacy boundaries on their social media profiles."

Clear, identifying trait
The use of and enthusiasm for technology is a clear distinction between Millennials and other generations, said Paul Taylor, one of the co-editors of the report and executive vice president of the research center.

"We asked people of all ages, do you think of your generation as distinctive and unique? And half to two-thirds of members of any generation say 'yes,' and when we ask why, it’s the Millennials who say 'technology' more than any other answer," with 24 percent giving that answer, he said.

In contrast, 12 percent of "Gen Xers," defined by Pew as those born between 1965 and 1980, cite technology as being a distinguishing trait of their generation, with Baby Boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) listing "work ethic," and members of what Pew calls "the Silent Generation," (born between 1928 through 1945) naming the Depression and World War II as significant traits of their generation. (Pew says the "Silent Generation" title refers to the group's "conformist and civic instincts.")

Not just about gadgets
Millennials’ "technological exceptionalism is chronicled throughout the survey," Pew found. "It’s not just their gadgets — it’s the way they’ve fused their social lives into them.

"For example, three-quarters of Millennials have created a profile on a social networking site, compared with half of Xers, 30 percent of Boomers and 6 percent of Silents.

"There are big generation gaps, as well, in using wireless technology, playing video games and posting self-created videos online. Millennials are also more likely than older adults to say technology makes life easier and brings family and friends closer together."

Cell phones only
Among the findings by Pew, with most based on a survey last month of a national cross-section of 2,020 adults:

  • "Significantly more Millennials than members of any other generation use their phone for texting." Of those who said they sent a text message by phone in the past 24 hours, "the typical Millennial sent or received 20 texts in that period, compared with a dozen for a Gen Xer and five for a Baby Boomer."
  • 64 percent of Millennials say they have sent a text message while driving, compared with almost 46 percent of Gen Xers, 21 percent of Baby Boomers and "virtually no Silents."
  • 41 percent of Millennials say they have only a cell phone and no landline, compared to 24 percent of Gen Xers, 13 percent of Baby Boomers and 5 percent of the Silents.

Cell-phone only ownership "keeps growing by leaps and bounds," said Amanda Lenhart, Pew senior research specialist. "It fits with young adults’ more mobile and peripatetic lifestyle, but I was still surprised by how large

the number had become."

Millennials, Pew said, "are more likely than older Americans to treat their cell phones as a necessary and important appendage. Many even bring their cell phones to bed," with 83 percent of them saying they have placed their cell phone or or right next to their bed while they sleep, compared to 68 percent of Gen Xers, 50 percent of Boomers and 20 percent of the Silents.

Taylor points out that "a lot of older adults have their landline phone next to their beds because they worry about that 3 a.m. call from a wayward child, or whatever it may be. And of course, most adults have an alarm clock by their bed, and nowadays cell phones can be all of the above."

Indeed, Matt Moore, a 27-year-old filmmaker in New York, who does not have a landline, says he keeps his cell phone by his bed constantly at night.

"I keep it on for emergencies, which I’ve had happen," he said. "And also, I use it for an alarm clock."

Text messaging
Not surprisingly, 88 percent of Millennials use their phones to send or receive text messages, compared to 77 percent of Gen Xers, 51 percent of Boomers and 9 percent of those in the Silent generation.

Four out of five Millennials said they sent or received text messages in the past 24 hours, compared to 63 percent of Gen Xers, 35 percent of Boomers and 4 percent of the Silent generation.

"And within the Millennial generation, there are a notable number of power-texters," with 25 percent saying they sent more than 50 messages in the previous 24-hour period, the Pew report said.

News sources, leisure time
A growing number of Americans continue turning to the Internet for their news, and Pew said that Millennials and Gen Xers have been "a large part of that increase."

In both groups, "nearly as many now cite the Internet as their main source for national and international news as cite television," Pew found. Only 24 percent of Millennials and Gen Xers get most of their news from newspapers.

In contrast, TV is the "primary" news source for 76 percent of Baby Boomers and 82 percent of the "Silent" generation.

Pew also asked about the kinds of activities each generation pursued in the 24 hours previous to the survey. Millennials were "more likely" than all other age groups to watch video online, post a message to someone's online profile (for example on Facebook, MySpace or Twitter), or play video games.

"Millennials are the least likely to have watched an hour of television in the past 24 hours," the Pew report said. "Even so, 57 percent of Millennials did that," compared to 67 percent of Gen Xers, 78 percent of Boomers and 82 percent of those in the Silent generation.

Also, 43 percent of Millennials said they read a daily newspaper in the last 24 hours, compared to 50 percent of Gen Xers, 58 percent of Boomers and 73 percent of those in the Silent generation.