News Column

Hispanics Aggressively Adapting to Tech; Companies Taking Notice

April 8, 2009


technology spread, hispanic tech, tech savvy, mobile phones, cell phones

Cosmetology school student Susan Isais never goes anywhere without her Blackberry. "I always have it on me," she said. Isais (pronounced Eee-sys) is the daughter of Mexican immigrants who came to America more than 20 years ago; her father, at the age of 63, still has a thick accent and slight discomfort with English. Like other young Hispanics, Isais represents an important bridge between wireless technology and her parents' generation of befuddled users trying to cope with the dynamic cell phone era. "I taught my dad how to text message and my mom, I taught her how to use a few different things like email."

According to a recent study by Mintel, Hispanics adapt to newer Internet technologies faster, using the World Wide Web through their cell phones and browsing social networks far more than non-Hispanics. Another study
by M:Metrics confirms this growth in Internet and wireless savvy, reporting that Hispanics are more likely than non-Hispanics to use text messaging, access the Internet through multi-media, or surf the Web via mobile phone.

For Isais, teaching her parents how to use their technologically fashionable Blackberries was a bit bothersome, but necessary.

"With my mom it's just getting used to [the phone]," explained Isais. "My father's also 63. With him it's just not having technology growing up."

Considering her enterprising social life that rarely lands her on the couch at home, "my dad makes me have my phone on me all the time in case of an emergency," said Isias. "It's mostly 'are you going to come home for dinner.' You know, just to make sure I'm not dead."

Cell phone companies are beginning to take notice of this rise in Hispanic usage and are morphing parts of their business to allow people like Isais' parents to become more familiar with their product. The telephone and Internet giant Verizon recently launched in order to provide a Web site for customers who are more comfortable using Spanish for often-difficult technological questions.

"We did [] because of the statistics. We've been watching the Hispanic market for many, many years. We've been building supports for this customer group for many years," said Lisa Harrison, manager of multi-cultural marketing for Verizon Telecom. "[Hispanics] are the largest single-language speaking minority in the United States. Latinos are becoming more Internet savvy and we certainly see Latinos coming to Web sites to learn about us."

Although Verizon has multicultural marketing teams focusing on a plethora of languages, including Russian, Chinese, and even American Sign Language, the company has specifically focused on Hispanics because of the size and the growth of the group's population as well as the statistics pointing to their tech-savvy ways.

Though more and more Hispanics are adapting to a multitude of technologies faster than non-Hispanics, they are also some of the early explorers of new technology breakthroughs. In 2006, mobile TV was just cracking the surface of the cellular market. A survey done by Telefia that same year showed that Hispanics were among the first ethnic group to embrace it. Although Hispanics only represent 10 percent of the market share of wireless subscribers, they comprise nearly a quarter of mobile TV subscribers.

Although Isais doesn't have TV on her Blackberry--"I watch my novelas at home," she jokes--she does have email, Internet, Blackberry messenger, and even GPS.

The same study by M:Metrics also found that Hispanics that use the Internet use it three times more through their phones than non-Hispanics and they spend twice as much time chatting or on social networks than other ethnic groups.

Harrison reports that nearly half of Hispanic Verizon subscribers are between the ages of 18 and 34 and describes this "dot-com generation" as being "very aggressive of online."

"We have an increase in Hispanics who are buying our premium products. We also know these customers are active. Hispanics are very actively adopting broadband, [and] online Hispanic [users] are more acculturated, more educated. Hispanic users online are more attractive," said Harrison.

But the rise in Hispanic subscribers isn't the only significance. "Young Hispanics are adopting [technologies] and then bringing [them] to their parents," said Harrison

Perhaps reflecting a bit of symbolism, Isais passed down her old phone to her dad when he was in need of a mobile device and she wanted an upgrade. "Sometimes an alarm will go off from a scheduled event I put in last January...and he'll say 'okay, what's wrong with the phone.'" Although she admitted that the "mobile phone 101" pow-wow with her parents only took a day, every once in a while they still have a question or two.

"I show [my dad] how [to use his phone], but then he just makes me watch him do it."

At the same time, parents whose children are less accessible than Isais may well appreciate that companies are starting to pay attention to a growing customer base.

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

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