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Who's a Young Tech Elite, and who's a Wired GenerationXer?

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Cell phone customers got an early gift for the holidays last month: the right to take their cell phone number with them if they switch carriers. By some predictions, tens of millions of consumers will switch companies.

But the event was more interesting because of what didn’t happen. The carriers didn’t launch vast consumer education efforts aimed at anxious and confused customers.

Compare last month’s muted reaction with what happened during the last big federal ruling affecting telephone users: the historic 1984 breakup of AT&T’s Bell System. I watched the "Divestiture"
—as we all called it back then—very closely. At the time, I was features editor at Telephony, a magazine that had covered the phone networks since their earliest days at the start of the 20th century.

Back in 1984, most individuals and even some businesses were uneasy about their new-found freedom of choice, bemoaning the fact that AT&T’s "perfectly good network" was being carved up.

Fast forward to Nov. 24, 2003. Cell phone portability happens and individuals and businesses alike start checking different rate plans. Thanks to Divestiture we’ve grown accustomed to an array of communication providers, services and devices competing for our attention.

Look around a subway or a bus or an airport lounge and you’ll marvel at the number of headset-talking, text-messaging, Web-surfing people. (Last year, for the first time in history, the number of landline phones in the U.S. dropped—by some 5 million lines, according to the Federal Communications Commission.)

Just last month the Pew Internet and American Life Project published a report on U.S. technology users. The study found that more and more of us are willing to jettison traditional means of communication, such as landline phones, for mobile phones, the Internet and e-mail.

The Pew report said that roughly a third of us fall into a "tech elite," divided into three primary groups: Young Tech Elite, Wired Baby Boomers and Wired GenerationXers. The last group, which makes up more than 60% of early adopters, has a median age of 36. But it’s the Young Elite, with an average age of 22, that are the heaviest users of new technologies, the people most likely to switch off traditional systems. Among this group, which represents 6% of the U.S. population, 80% own cell phones and 9% have already replaced a landline with a mobile phone.

All marketers need to heed these population demographics. They continually need to revisit how their customers prefer to be reached, how they consume information and marketing messages and how their habits for both are evolving.

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