Understanding how today’s younger shoppers think is vital for success

I realise I have become embarrassing. I mistakenly think that I have more in common with a 20-year-old than a 50-year-old despite being nearer in age to the latter.

I was recently asked to speak at a Guardian summit. After my session I was part of a panel of digital oldies discussing the shape of the world with a counter panel of digital kids.

It was the day’s highlight. I met four bright young people doing an incredible range of things. One had started a basketball community online, one was a professional carer and another the founder of a political campaigning site. What was heartening was the common ground between the two parts of the panel. There was a palpable love of technology, love of change and ‘just bloody get on with it’ attitude.

What was striking, however, were the stark differences. The younger panel had a completely different view of media - of copyright, TV and content.

They all said they would rather be a big YouTube star than appear on TV- unless the show was at 8pm on a Saturday and Simon Cowell had issued the invite.

To them, taking the work of someone else from whatever genre, playing with it, mashing it up, posting it on the web and claiming it as something new was commonplace.

This extended to all sorts of products and services: when out shopping they described how they would take photos of outfits, send them to each other and make comments and suggestions before buying.

It reminded me how important it is to keep talking to people of all ages. This reminder rang in my ears when I spent an evening last weekend at a digital arts project called Thecreatorsproject.com.

Brought over from New York and on its way to Beijing and Sao Paolo, it pulled together music, art, film and technology in an amazing warehouse.

I felt about 110 years old as I wandered around among the achingly trendy, who would probably have passed out with shock if they had known I would be tucked up in bed by 10.30pm.

Yet again it made me think about the incredible pace of change between generations. There were rooms of 3D technology, interactive music installations and sound artworks.

The immediate impetus to share experiences was overwhelming. After creating your own 3D art piece you could upload it onto the web - everywhere were places to go onto social networks and chat about the event - but it was also the frenzied texting and videoing that felt very different to the clubbing days I remembered.

The way that under-18s consume media, go out and use technology has far-reaching implications for many industries, but for retailers staying in touch with and listening to the younger generation is a matter of life and death.

I read an article this week extolling the importance of making a conscious effort to talk to the youngest people in your office or organisation as you will always learn something. I liked this.

The good news for me was that quite unlike the popular news portrayal of people their age, I met a bunch of enthusiastic, engaged, smart young people at the events I described. The only shocker was the realisation that I seemed like a dinosaur to them.