Keep in touch

Let’s fore-go the "Oh, those kids!" shall we.  The LATimes begins an article reporting on the behavior of always-on teenagers by telling the story of a 15-year-old who sometimes stays connected to a friend by leaving his mobile with a bluetooth headset on all day. Whenever something comes up all they have to do is say, "Hey."

Like an increasing number of youths growing up in an age of cheap
mobile phones and fast Internet connections, Will is connected 24/7 to
family and friends through an array of gadgetry. So obsessed are teens
with devices like digital music players, cellphones, digital cameras
and hand-held organizers, that 15-year-old girls are now the world’s
top consumers of computer chips, said Chuck Byers, director of global
marketing at chip maker Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co….

"Teenagers have adopted this technology very aggressively, in part
because it’s inexpensive now, and it’s mobile — and everything a
teenager does is about being mobile and untethered," said David
Greenfield, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of
Connecticut. "With the complexity of our world and the scheduling kids
have compared with 25, 30 years ago, it’s a newer way of connecting

More than a quarter of 15- to 18-year-olds in the U.S. can send instant
messages from their bedrooms, said Victoria Rideout of the Kaiser
Family Foundation, which in March published an extensive study on
Internet use by 8- to 18-year-olds.

"Think about a kid who
may be online IM-ing 10 other kids, each of them IM-ing 10 other kids,"
Rideout said. "You’ve potentially got 100 kids in a social group more
or less in instant communication."

Ryan Miller’s group is
pretty big. The 13-year-old’s IM "buddy list" teems with 110 people,
mostly people he sees regularly and all of whom he messages at least
occasionally in this rite of bonding over bandwidth. For Ryan, a
seventh-grader in Centennial, Colo., the messaging does not only define
his community. It’s also a social necessity….

On a recent evening, Will sat in front of his computer and flipped
among seven simultaneous online IM sessions. In one, he argued the
relative merits of Volkswagen’s Golf R32 and the BMW M3. In another, he
fretted over an upcoming Spanish test. He gossiped about classmates in
another and discussed Asian music videos in yet another.

Between munches of grapes, Will’s hands flew between the keyboard and
the mouse in a rhythm too fast for a visitor to read the incoming
messages, let alone Will’s rapid-fire responses. "Pieces" by the band
Sum 41 streamed out of his computer speakers, but before the track was
over, he switched to "She’s the Blade" by Sugarcult and then to Ace
Troubleshooter’s "Tonight."

Will’s mother checked in on him: he
was supposed to study for three tests in two days. How could he
concentrate on homework while being bombarded with so many audio,
visual and digital stimuli?

"I just switch between them," he said with a shrug. "I’m good at multi-tasking."

Besides the "what’s this world coming too?" factor, I think the article is interesting because of our tentative explorations of "social software" and using things like blogs to "reach out." What I take away is that the frequency, depth and breadth of person-to-person (P2P) communication will only increase and a generation is nearly upon us that has been immersed in this kind of social networking as long as they can remember. They will bring a new experience of social communication to the workplace and the marketplace. I don’t think there’s any way to use emerging communications technology that’s beyond the ken of the young. And, IMHO, organizations should start using the newly trained perceptions of young workers early instead of waiting until traditional authority is granted to them when they start to show some gray.