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As a father of four children ranging in ages from 6 to 17 years old, I can attest to the fact that the next generation is constantly buried in a screen of some sort. My 6-year-old daughter has owned an iPod touch since she was 4. My other children received cell phones in seventh grade and all have their own laptops, iPod touches, Nintendo DS and Flat screen TVs in their rooms with a PS3 or Xbox. I agree that my family might not be all that typical, but I can't help but believe in the new term describing them as "Screenagers."

I was sitting in the Digital Screenmedia Association board meeting last week at the CETW show in San Francisco when someone brought up the term. I'm not quite clear who coined it, but it makes perfect sense. Now, more than ever people are connected, and not just the kids. I'm typing this blog sitting on the plane flying home and just spent the last 15 minutes teaching a 75-year-old gentleman how to text on his phone in the terminal.

How is this going to affect businesses looking to deploy kiosks and other technology? During the show I was constantly being asked, "What's next and new?" Everyone wants to know how to leverage social media and other techniques to reach more people. I would just like to know how to reach my kids at the dinner table when they seem more interested to surf the net or text their friends, who also don't want to speak to Mom and Dad. These kids are connected like no other generation before them. Some argue they may be anti-social, but in my experience these kids are carrying on sometimes five conversations at once and multi-tasking comes with ease.

So what is new, and how are we to reach these people?

Last year when my company built 1,500 kiosks for Hot Topic, the CEO at the time, was really trying to hit the nail on the head. She wanted her stores to become a destination for people to come and hang out. The kiosks we designed had things like USB ports for charging, hangers to hold bags and multiple headphone ports, so friends could all plug in together and listen to music. The kiosks even featured a foot rest to encourage a longer user session. Eventually, built-in Webcams will allow shoppers to take pictures and upload them directly to Facebook. At some level, certain kiosk applications have to evolve to allow for this type of free-thinking society. The user interfaces have to be intuitive, quick and innovative for this generation to care. And let's not forget these kids are young, now but they are the future. This is how things will be done in a very short time.

The Hot Topic kiosks not only allowed you to listen to music available in the store, but they also incorporated the endless aisle concept and had everything available online that might not be in the store. If you decided to have your item sent to the store, shipping was free, which was another way to get people to come back to the store. Each store, which averaged only about 600 square feet, featured multiple kiosks.

It's high time for retail to begin adopting kiosk technology and to not be afraid of taking some chances -- just like the old man learning to text. The key here is to work with and listen to your customer base. I'm sure they'd be more than happy to tell you what's missing in your stores. Because if you don't ask and someone else does, guess what's next? You become Mom and Dad, who's getting ignored at the dinner table, and your competition is everyone's new best friend.

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Frank Olea
Frank Olea is the CEO of Olea Kiosks Incorporated. Frank has been active in kiosk design and manufacturing for 15 years and currently serves on the board of the Digital Screenmedia Association.
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