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I’m old…

February 13, 2010

… or at least sometimes I feel old. I was out in Pittsburgh with my friend Boya today, doing some shopping for fancy new clothes for an AEJMC conference we’re attending, and while enjoying some of the finer foods available in the food court, we noticed a group of especially young-looking kids hanging out and playing with their cell phones. All of them seemed to have one, and each had it out, and was rapidly clicking away at it. Of course, Boya and I were astonished, and reminisced about our cell-phone free youth.

This isn’t a new phenomenon, kids have been making up more and more of the cell phone market for years, but with the recent rise of the smart phone, one has to wonder what exactly a 12 year old needs with a blackberry or an iphone. I report from Mashable makes this shift in consumerism even more interesting. According the the statistics they published, 75% of teens age 12 – 17 own cell phones. The report also suggests that 93% of teens in this age group are going online, and are more active in social networking sites than in sites dedicated to content creation, like blogs. This may explain what teens are using their cell phones for. Most phones sold today come with internet capabilities, text capabilities, and cameras. Some come with sound and video recording capabilities. It’s easier than ever to take a photo, go online, post it, and post a update to your social networking site of choice all on your phone, and this is likely why teens want these phones. Plus their friends have them. Plus they’re ‘cool’.

There are two questions I have, in relation to teens and phones: 1.) Where do they get all of this money? Last time I checked, a decent smart phone plan was upwards of $100 per month. I can’t even afford that bill (granted, I’m a student, so I’m not exactly wealthy, but still). It’s safe to assume these kids aren’t paying for these phones. Which leads me to question 2.) Do kids really need this much technology? If you’re in this age group, you’re supposed to be spending most of your time in school. Having taught 7th and 8th grade for one year, I know how much of a distraction a phone can be, and how inconvenient it can be to try to take them away. Parents throw fits when a teacher locks up an iphone in their desk drawer for a week. And rightly so – it’s an expensive gadget, and it’s 25% of a monthly bill completely lost. Even more so, it makes the parent actually have to keep track of their child – they can’t just call them and track them down. But what else is there to do? You have students posting to facebook instead of paying attention.

Another thing to consider, is how this will change the way future internet users actually use the internet. One could argue that with time, with knowledge, and with developed interests, the teens today may grow up to become the next generation of content-creators and follow in our footsteps, but old habits die hard. What may develop is a very limited understanding of what the internet has to offer (limited to facebook, myspace, shopping, and the occasional google map search) as well as the death of the blogosphere and with it the potential for a new take on public sphere communication. It’s hard to understand what the internet will be treated as for the generation of users who haven’t grown up without access, but it certainly shouldn’t be treated like a toy, as it is now (well, at least not as much, the internet can be a cool toy). That will come with education, especially on the responsible use of technology. Giving kids access to this as a treat, or a reward, or a form of allowance, is not the way to teach the younger generation to use technology – they don’t get any of the educational or informative benefits from the web, and they take all of the frivolous, sometimes meaningless crap that  is making the internet seem so small.

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