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In case you haven’t noticed, “Millennials” are all the rage these days. The generation of Americans born between 1978 and 1996 numbers more than 77 million and makes up more than 24 percent of the population. And, like their Baby Boomer parents, they have both tremendous buying power and social influence.
While the Baby Boomer generation may have rebelled against social norms in very visible and almost radical fashion, Millennials are blazing a more subtle, yet equally independent trail.
According to a recent survey by Nielsen, Millennials are much more comfortable with life in the big city than in the suburbs, and with public transportation versus the family car. They’d rather visit small shops and cafes than hit the shopping mall and food court. They’re also heavy users of technology, especially mobile technology, which many of them have been exposed to their entire lives. In fact, according to a second Nielsen survey, Millennials are the largest group of smartphone users, with more than 85 percent of them regularly turning to their touchscreens for social networking, entertainment and communication.
This combination of urban living + mobile technology = a whole new way of navigating through life in the big city.
Caitlin, for example, is a 22-year-old intern with a large PR agency in Boston, Mass. Tech- and social media-savvy, she uses her smartphone and tablet for everything from getting around on public transportation, to planning a night out on the town, to sharing expenses with her roommate.
“I use my smartphone for planning purposes almost every day,” she says. “I’m still getting to know my way around the city and learning where to go for different occasions. I rely heavily on technology and apps to do that.”
Where their Baby Boomer predecessors may have reached for the Yellow Pages to search for restaurants or other services, Millennials don’t have to look any further than their mobile device.
“When my friends and I are planning a night out, the first thing we do is reach for our phones and start searching for information through our apps,” Caitlin says. “We look for places on Yelp to see if they have good reviews, if they charge a cover to get in, and where they’re located. Then we can plan how we’re going to get there and what the fare will be.”
For urban Millennials like Caitlin, “getting there” increasingly means using ridesharing services like Lyft and Zipcar because they prefer the convenience of a ride on demand to the hassles of driving and parking in the city. Not owning a vehicle also cuts down on their carbon footprint, another important value for their generation. Requesting a ride and paying or splitting the fare is as simple as a few taps on a smartphone or tablet.
When they’re not ridesharing, urban Millennials are like generations of “straphangers” before them, relying on public transportation to get them to and from work. But instead of carrying train and bus schedules in their bags or pockets, today’s commuters are using their smartphone for timetables and to purchase tickets.
“HopStop is one of my go-to apps,” says Caitlin. “It’s especially helpful for getting to and from work. I use it to look up the “T” and bus schedules and to coordinate timing and directions.”
Today’s Millennials also tend to rely less on “cold hard cash” than the Boomers.
Mobile banking apps make it easy to deposit and transfer money between accounts and to set up automatic bill payments for recurring expenses. For other purchases, mobile payment apps like Softcard make buying lunch or a latte as easy as tapping your phone against a checkout terminal. Technology has even made sharing household expenses easier.
“My roommate and I use Venmo to pay each other back for our shared bills and other expenses without having to exchange cash or write a check,” says Caitlin.
As with any new wave of technology and innovation, not one specific group holds a monopoly on adoption. But there’s no denying that Millennials have embraced mobile technology and all the ways it can help them navigate city life.