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Google reveals our embarrassing voice search habits

Google recently commissioned a study to show how cool voice search can be, but the findings don't always show the best side of either teens or adults.

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James Martin/CNET

Google wants to get the word out that all the cool kids -- and at least a few hip adults -- are all about talking to Google. At least, that's the subtext that I took away from a study commissioned by the great scion of search that looked at how both teens and adults use voice search (including options like Siri or Cortana as well as Google).

The survey found that 55 percent of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 use voice search at least twice every day, although only 41 percent of those older than 18 are such big fans of yammering at their phones.

Google reports that 56 percent of adults said using voice search makes them "feel tech savvy," however there's no corresponding statistic for the teen cohort, presumably because they began laughing hysterically as soon as they heard the clueless and embarrassingly old-person sounding phrase "tech savvy." I also assume that something similar happened when/if the teens were asked if using voice search makes them "feel like a geek" -- 45 percent of adults surveyed said it does, but no statistic is provided for responses to this query from the teen group.

The activities that Americans use voice search for most also confirms certain generational priorities or perhaps deficiencies. Calling someone is the most frequently cited use of voice search among teens, whereas adults use voice search most for getting directions. Clearly, adults like myself are too worried about not knowing where we're going to take the time to call a friend. Then again, maybe teens are so lost that they've just given up and decided to call a friend to chat while waiting for help to arrive.

Interestingly, the second most popular use of voice search for adults -- dictating texts -- doesn't appear to rank among the top six functions for teens, but getting help with homework does, as does the rather confusing practice of asking your phone what time it is. Unless I missed something, this would seem to add a step on most phones where a clock is even easier to access than voice search (the Moto X and a plugged-in iPhone 6 are notable exceptions).

The study was commissioned by Google and conducted by Northstar Research, which gathered responses from 1,400 Americans, including 400 teens from age 13 to 17 and 1,000 adults age 18 and older.

"We found that for teens, voice search comes as naturally as checking social media and they're getting very creative about how (and where) they use it," Scott Huffman, Google's vice president for conversational search, said in a release.

Teens are twice as likely to use voice search with friends and a little more likely to use it in the bathroom than adults, but we old folks voice search while cooking almost three times as much. This could be because standing in line at Chipotle does not fit the traditional definition of "cooking."

Speaking of eating habits, the study finds that 45 percent of teens wish they could order a pizza via voice search versus only 36 percent of adults, but 44 percent of adults want to be able to voice search for the location of our keys, versus just 34 percent of teens. These questions are somewhat misleading though, because if you can't find your keys, you won't be able to drive to Chipotle, and you'll soon be wishing you could also ask Google to order you that pizza as well.