Time Inc. and Innerscope research presented findings from their biometric media consumption study today at the Collaborative Alliance gathering.

Among the discoveries? Young people switch between media platforms on average 27 times per hour, prefer to text rather than talk, and are 14% more likely than Gen X and Boomers to say that they “get nervous easily.”

The survey was conducted in part using state of the art biometric capturing technology: thirty individuals were equipped with gaze tracking glasses to follow their vision, and belts recorded heartrate, skin temperature, respiration, and motion.

Around 300 hours of data was collected, which was broken up and placed into 5-second bins; each of these 200,000 bins were manually analyzed, and sorted by which media platform was being used by the test subjects at any given time. This process generated over a billion datapoints, which were complimented with interviews and survey data.

Now, it’s possible that being wired like poor Sam in the final scene of Brazil could increase anyone’s heartrate and anxiety, but none of the results to this survey run counter to common sense:

  • Upon waking, the first thing “digital natives” do is reach for their smartphones. Gen X & Boomers – newly termed “digital migrants” – reach for the TV remote.
  • 65% of natives carry their smartphone with them from room to room while at home; 41% of migrants do this.
  • As mentioned, natives switch screens 27 times per hour, migrants do this only 17 times.
  • 59% had a high degree of emotional engagement with social media, vs. 35% of older people.

Innerscope and Time Inc. drew a number of conclusions from this data

  • Almost nothing deserves the full atention of digital natives, who are comfortable with non-linear thinking.
  • Social media is an emotionally engaging distraction, but emotional responses are higher when full attention is captured.
  • This persistant lack of attention constrains emotional engagement: by switching between multiple media streams, consumers avoid specific instances of rapprochement.
  • Therefore: young people use media to regulate their moods.

The analysts also suggested engagement strategies that will sound familiar to most anyone who’s worked in digital:

  • Get to the point quickly. Provide instant gratification and emotional intensity from the start.
  • Make it really easy to consume content and provide both the main attraction, and the distraction.
  • Provide multiple access points, visual call outs, and non-linear presentation.
  • Be careful with clever subtleties that young consumers may miss.
  • Sustain emotional rapport thoroughout the engagement: photos, music, drama, surprise.
  • Include them in brand dialog, not monologue.

Notably, the topic of why young consumers are behaving in this fidgety, hard to control way didn’t seem to come up.

And yet, divining why young people are more nervous and jumpy, is, no doubt, the key to achieving the emotional connection that brands seek. Young people aren’t consuming multiple content streams simply because they can.

They are using multiple devices and media platforms because no single media content provider is capable of satisfying the diverse array of psychic tasks and information-gathering that is required to successfully navigate the modern world. Nor are they capable of providing the affective displacement (read: conversations and emotional connection with friends) that are required to maintain emotional strength in the increasingly perilous economic conditions that young people are finding themselves in.

Brands (and services) that intrude too closely upon these relationships may find their efforts backfiring; brands may find more rewards in figuring out how to alleviate stress than they will in calculatedly increasing their aggregate engagement with each and every consumer.

Sometimes, the best way to connect is to be comfortable in silence with one another.