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Are Millennials turning away from the latest tech?
personAdi Gaskell eventJun 13, 2019

Are Millennials turning away from the latest tech?

Millennials have a reputation as being the strongest advocates for the latest technology, but new data suggests this assumption may need adjusting.

Seldom has a generation attracted quite so many comments and stereotypes as millennials, but perhaps the most enduring is that they’re digital natives, who on account of growing up surrounded by technology, are instantly at home with the latest gadgets and technologies in a way that older generations are not.

It’s a narrative that has helped to shape both how millennials are marketed to and how they’re treated in the workplace, but is the narrative justified?  While there are undoubtedly elements of truth to the myth, in some aspects of technology, there are clear signs that millennials are actively resisting the march of technology.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the data that technology companies are accumulating about users, with this harvesting often happening without either their knowledge or consent.  There is an acute understanding among millennials that in many of the free platforms and services they consume on a daily basis, they themselves are the product that the companies sell to advertisers.  Even when their data isn’t being harvested for targeted advertising, it’s often tracked to personalise the customer experience.

The rise of surveillance capitalism

This so-called surveillance capitalism signifies a new shift in economics, with companies scrabbling to gather as much data as they can to feed the artificial intelligence technologies that will increasingly power their business.  There is a sense that millennials are rejecting this business orthodoxy however, with research from UCL showing that 47% of millennials don’t want AI-based tech monitoring everything they do. Indeed, less than 1 in 3 regard AI-driven interventions, such as targeted recommendations, as a positive thing.

This manifested itself in a considerable concern about the amount of data companies have on them, with regulations such as GDPR thus far not serving to assuage their concerns.  A whopping 70% of young people think that the likes of Google and Facebook have too much of their personal data, and whilst most of the big tech giants have recently vowed to make privacy a priority in the coming years, in reality privacy is likely to be an ever more hostile battleground.

A recent report from Accenture explored this issue in the rise of voice-activated technologies such as Amazon’s Alexa, and how they promise to transform the home environment.  It revealed that while millennials have been early adopters of smart technology, they are also the most nervous age group when it comes to the privacy implications of having an array of smart devices in the home.

Source: Adobe Stock

Smart homes

The research surveyed a number of UK consumers to explore how people were using smart home technologies, and how they felt about the presence of the technology in their homes.  The data did indeed reveal that millennials are aware of the benefits of the technology, with roughly 76% saying it made their lives easier and 70% thinking it made life more connected.

This comes with a distinct caveat however, as over half of millennial respondents also thought that the technology was excessively intrusive, with around 40% also believing that people are becoming too dependent on the technology.

Central to these concerns are fears around the amount of information smart devices have on them.  Some 40% of millennials revealed that they think too much information about their lives and behaviours are captured by smart devices, with the majority of millennials doubtful that the data that is collected is managed properly and stored securely.

“As future homeowners and potential smart-home customers, younger generations are a crucial market. But this research shows that brand understanding of this group’s anxieties around technology is limited. Rationalising the fears of millennials around dependency, intrusiveness, and isolation will be vital to the product design strategy of the future. Those aged 65 and over emerge as an avenue for opportunity,” Accenture say.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the age group that appears to be the most trusting are the over 65s, who were both most likely to believe their information was being managed appropriately and least likely to have any concerns about technology leading to greater isolation.  Indeed, this age group were increasingly using technology to manage their social life and improve their wellbeing.

My previous article highlighted how important trust in technology was to how willingness to consume and use it, whether we’re talking driverless cars or AI-driven healthcare.  It’s tempting to think that younger people will automatically have higher levels of trust than any other age group, but the studies highlighted above should prompt us to question those assumptions.  If we are selling to this age group, we may need to double our efforts to address the clear concerns they have and ensure that this vital demographic aren’t turned off.

About the author
Adi Gaskell
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Adi Gaskell is an innovation writer and consultant who has worked with leading organisations from the private and public sectors, including Deloitte, DellEMC, GSK, the Ministry of Defence, InnovateUK, Government Office for Science and National Health Service. He writes regularly on business, innovation and technology for Forbes and the BBC, as well as academic publications such as the LSE Business Review. He has also contributed authored and ghost-written content for companies such as Salesforce, Alcatel, BBVA, HCL Technologies, Adobe, T-Mobile and Innocentive, as well as white papers and journal articles. He has also contributed to a couple of books on innovation, and is currently co-writing a book on the future of workplaces. He has an academic background in computing and artificial intelligence, and studied innovation at the Tuck School of Business.

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