Many people think that you can forecast a technological revolution by watching the children. This was flaky at best, since 20th-century capitalism was centered around making money and kids are broke. You remember begging your parents for cash so you could buy a toy, right? Remember how they often said no?
Tomorrow’s kids won’t have these memories. The business models of 21st-century tech companies are substantially different. The concept of giving a company money for a product is the exception, not the norm. For every iTunes that sells you a song, there’s a Pandora pushing ads, a Spotify harvesting data, a Turntable pitching impressions, a Rhapsody shipping coregistrations. We’re increasingly nervous when these companies call in their due. A little bit of your mind remembers that you could be losing $10 instead of hearing the same Citibank ad nine times, and wonders if it was worth it.
To parents, ads and data aggregation have opportunity costs. To kids, their ‘free’ stuff is a lot freer.
Modern kids don’t have to worry about this exchange. Their money comes through and from their parents, making the non-cash choice self-evident. If little Billy asks Mom for those movie tickets, she’ll find out that he’s meeting a girl at the show. If she says no, Billy has to make a very awkward call. If he Likes his local theater on Facebook and sits through a few commercial breaks, he can see the show for free.
When kids can exchange non-monetary material for the stuff they want, they’re suddenly in the game. In fact, the game will be increasingly made for them. As the market makers who frivolously spend their non-monetary assets, they’re the targets for successful startups. The kids will call the shots, voting with whatever assets supplant the dollar. The suppliers deliver, optimizing the product for whatever generates the most gullible leads, the most valuable ad cohorts, and the most powerful social influencers.
Parents and kids will drift apart, using different currencies to buy different products optimized for different goals.
Not only will parents lose control over what their kids consume, they’ll lose touch with the entire system of consumption. The parents are stuck in a 20th-century world where you work hard for money and exchange the money for stuff. The kids are operating in a world where you requisition the stuff gratis. Why would kids ask their parents for cash when they can get a game by watching an ad? Why would parents sit through an ad when they could just pay a few bucks? The two drift apart.
If things keep going the way they’re going, kids will look at products with a post-monetary sensibility – and probably spend like madmen.