Technology: the Fifth Sense?

June 10th, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

A study claims most youth would trade their sense of smell for a smartphone.

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The Responsibility Project

Here’s further proof that either 1) young adults are more attached to technology than you’d think, or 2) you can turn virtually any idea into a study, or both. A new survey by McCann Worldgroup revealed that the majority of 16-to-22-year olds would rather lose their sense of smell than give up their smartphones, laptops or social networks.

The study, called The Truth about Youth, studied 7,000 16-to-30 year olds across the UK, USA, Spain, China, India, Brazil and Mexico in an effort to uncover, according to the group, “what makes them different from every generation that has come before.”

The actual question allowed young people to save two items among a list of choices, including cosmetics, their car, their passport, their phone and their sense of smell. Smell was the first to go among 53 percent of 16-22 year olds and 48 percent of those aged 23-30.

Though the study sought the broader results of differentiating the generation from generations past, those who have read it have perhaps understandably focused on the tradeoff between smell and technology.  “Well obviously,” says a HyperVocal blog item, citing that while Facebook facilitated revolutions in the Middle East, “For the average young adult, sense of smell has yet to provide anything other than surplus pounds.”

In addition to the finding that calls technology a “fifth sense” that allows young people to make sense of the world (even more so than their sense of smell), McCann found that members of the generation generally want to be remembered for their connections (as one respondent put it, “If there are no pics, it didn’t happen”). It also revealed that “truth” and “justice” are the most important values the generation seeks, and they’re not only well aware of how social media tools are harnessed in the quest for social justice, but of the rarity of truth online, where “the internet invites information, opinion and rumor in equal measure.”

While Time.com’s Chris Gayomali writes that the smell/technology exchange is a bad deal, he also notes it speaks to technology’s “weird necessity” now, and, presented with the same question, wasn’t sure what he’d answer. Offered the same choice, I’d lose cosmetics and the phone first; but then, I don’t fit into the demographic. Are you surprised by McCann’s “fifth sense” revelation?