Last week, you may have read that Morgan Stanley published a report by a 15-year-0ld intern, Matthew Robson.
To me, the report should be ignored. It reflects a failure of gate-keeping at Morgan Stanley.
For instance, they published the report “[w]ithout claiming representation or statistical accuracy,” yet felt it provided “one of the clearest and most thought provoking insights we have seen.”
How can it be non-representative and inaccurate, yet clear and thought-provoking?
OK, I’ll relent on the “thought-provoking” point. It certainly provoked some unflattering thoughts about Morgan Stanley’s office in Europe, which sponsored the report.
The premise is awkward from the beginning — claiming that “[a]t the vanguard of this digital revolution are teenagers.” I don’t accept this. Teenagers are going through too many other preliminary social, identity, and educational modes to also be on the vanguard of a digital revolution. They’re preoccupied with their own personal revolutions, evolutions, and development.
The people on the vanguard of the digital revolution are those with major time, financial, and logistical constraints — major corporations, busy professionals, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, etc. There are enough opportunities and benefits from digital migration to draw these people to create the digital future. Teens are likely a trailing indicator.
One of the most quoted pieces from Robson’s report is that “[t]eenagers do not use Twitter.” We’re all supposed to fall down in shock over this insight. Sorry, but I knew that. What do they have to microblog about? They’re forming social connections much closer to home, so text messaging and phoning work for them. They’re not ready to publish stray thoughts to professional contacts and far-flung friends. Not yet, anyhow.
The deeper problem is that Morgan Stanley’s executives have let down the teenage author of this report by not discreetly teaching a young intern how reports like this are expected to be generated. That’s a failure of gate-keeping, of professional standards, an expectation of professionalism that goes far beyond statements like this:
Teenagers visit the cinema more often when they are in the lower end of teendom (13 and 14) but as they approach 15 they go to the cinema a lot less. This is due to pricing; at 15 they have to pay the adult price, which is often double the child price.
This said “[w]ithout claiming representation or statistical accuracy”? And all because Matthews’ mother met a Morgan Stanley employee while walking her dog.
When gate-keeping fails, it fails both readers and authors.
And the premise begs a question: Do teenagers matter to information businesses? As The Guardian noted in a critique of the report, “Today’s young persons rarely, if ever, pay for anything they can get for free. The big question then, is this: why do we care what they like?”