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Which Generation Loves Technology the Most? You’ll be Surprised at the Answer!

 20240613-ilu-generation technologyTechnology impacts every aspect of our lives, deeply influencing our experiences, expectations, behaviors, and mindsets, regardless of where we belong on the generational continuum. For the past 25 years, Illuminas has tracked consumer receptiveness to cutting-edge technology through our National Technology Readiness Survey and has observed a consistent pattern of younger consumers always having a higher propensity to adopt technology – until now. Our newest findings reveal that the youngest generation, Gen Z, upends past trends by being less enthusiastic about cutting-edge technology than older generations. Tech companies have always taken for granted that tech readiness is highest among the youngest consumers, so this shift has profound implications for identifying innovators and bringing new products and services to the market. 

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The metric we use to assess consumer feelings about technology is the Technology Readiness Index (TRI), which uses survey questions to gauge an individual’s propensity to adopt and embrace cutting-edge technology at home, the workplace and school. Based on widely cited research published by our data scientists, the TRI captures both positive (motivating) and negative (inhibiting) beliefs about technology. The variables used to create an overall TRI score fall into four independent dimensions: optimism, innovativeness, discomfort, and insecurity (see table). The survey questions across the four categories are combined to compute an overall Technology Readiness Index score that captures receptiveness to technology and correlates highly with current and future ownership of technology products and services. In the U.S. adult population in 2024, the index classifies 39% of consumers as “high” on technology readiness, 33% as being in the “middle range,” and 27% as “low.” The highly tech-ready consumers drive demand for new innovations, while the lowest resist new technology. 

Segmenting the Market for Technology Products and Services

Beyond measuring the strength of technology readiness, the TRI data categorizes consumers into five psychographic segments based on their beliefs about technology.  These segments, in order from highest to lowest in techno-readiness, include Explorers, Pioneers, Skeptics, Hesitators and Avoiders (see Table). Each presents different opportunities and challenges and has different implications for the strategies companies should deploy when introducing high-tech products and services. By addressing the different needs of each segment, an innovation has greater success in moving beyond the early adopter segment and achieving long-term market success. The segments differ not only in beliefs but in their demographics, making them targetable in the market. For example, pioneers, a critical segment for moving a product from the start-up phase to mainstream adoption, stand out by being more ethnically diverse, born outside the U.S., living in inner cities, earning a higher income and owning a business. The segments also differ in their reactions to new technology. For example, the early highly techno-ready, early adopter segments, Explorers and Pioneers, are more hopeful than fearful of Artificial Intelligence; the middle stage adoption segments, Skeptics and Hesitators are divided between being hopeful and fearful, and the least techno-ready segment, Avoiders, are largely fearful. 

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Your Generation Matters

In the most recent waves of tracking technology beliefs among U.S. adults, a surprising trend has emerged – the youngest generational cohort, Gen Z (age 18 to 27), is less techno-ready than older generations, including Millennials (age 28 to 43) and Gen X (age 44 to 59).  The most tech-ready generation is Millennials, with 54% being highly techno-ready compared to 39% in the U.S. on average (see figure). Only 34% of Gen Zers are highly techno-ready, which is lower than Gen X (40%) and only slightly higher than Boomers (30%) and Silents (31%).
When considering the tech-readiness segments, we find that Gen Z consumers have a low incidence of being in the most tech-ready, early adopter segment, Explorers. They are not much different in this regard from Boomers, who may be their grandparents. They do have a high incidence belonging to middle-stage adoption segments, including Pioneers and Skeptics. The implication is that Gen Z can’t be readily counted on as being the first to try innovations; instead, high-tech products and services should be introduced to them by offering assurance and support to ease their adoption or by clearly articulating a strong case for why adoption would benefit them.
The impact of Gen Z’s lower tech-readiness on product and service adoption is more nuanced because of the role of life cycle and affluence. We find that Gen Z and Millennials own the same number of products and cloud services, both being higher than older generations. On the other hand, there are differences in who owns more of a specific product. Gen Z has a higher ownership rate of smartwatches and small smart home appliances, while Millennials have higher ownership of wearable biometric devices, virtual or augmented reality equipment and large smart home appliances. Gen Zers are more likely to subscribe to a personal fitness app, while Millennials are more likely to use telemedicine. When looking to the future, Millennials plan to purchase more devices or subscribe to more cloud apps than any generation, including Gen Z. 

We believe there are two reasons why Gen Z is less techno-ready than their older counterparts. The first is that Gen Z is coming of age in a world filled with negative publicity about technology, including security risks, violation of privacy and loss of control. For example, they have heard about identity theft, governments using social media to spy on them or influence elections, and the threats of Artificial Intelligence to their livelihoods. In contrast, Millennials came of age during a period of major technological advances that allowed them to experience firsthand how their lives were impacted. The older generation lived in a world before and after the perfection of smartphones, e-commerce, on-demand apps and streaming; the younger generation has seen these technologies improve but lacks awareness of what life was like before.  

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About the Study

The National Technology Readiness Survey™ has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999. The survey is co-sponsored by Illuminas and the Responsible Business Center at the Gabelli School of Business, Fordham University. The most recent wave was conducted in February 2024 and is based on an online survey of 1,046 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics. 

Check out this case study to see how one of our clients used the Technology Readiness Index (TRI) to better understand the Electric Vehicle (EV) market.

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