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Hey Kid, Look Over There - It's the Internet!

...and other new-fangled ways of communicating that doesn't require use of one's voice or the ability to spell whole words. Jk. Lol.

I had a thought not too long ago.

I looked down at my BlackBerry and saw that it was “blowing up” with all of my emails, text messages and the occasional phone call. It was nearly impossible for me to hide anymore. And, strangely enough, I didn’t mind.

I enjoy being connected to everything and everyone at every time, and if I ever change my mind, I can turn the thing off. I like knowing the choice is there.

For working professionals, this new (within the last decade) technology is fantastic. It allows instant connections, and if used responsibly, can greatly improve productivity. It also dawned on me that this new technology is also incredibly convenient for people on the exact opposite spectrum from the busy working professional – the average teenager.

The act of getting in touch with friends to make plans has never been simpler, and it got me wondering if hi-tech communication has had any effect on the way teens socialize. Is it really any different than what teens did in the past?

In the past, the only way to get in touch with someone was to write a letter with a pen and paper (it’s an ancient art form) and wait several days for the message to arrive. Then, you'd have to wait for a response or wonder if they ever received the letter.. I really have no idea how anything got done.

The other, more efficient, option was to pick up the phone, dial the numbers, and call the house. Ask, “Is so and so home?” get the answer, “yes, who is calling?" and respond, “It’s so and so.” You'd get the usual response, “Sure, hold on a minute, and then, provided so and so wanted to speak to you, the the other extension would pick up and you’d hear “I got it!”

There would be a pause. Then, “I got it! Hang up!” at which point your conversation would hopefully begin, provided the younger sibling didn’t pick up the phone and start pressing buttons without first checking if the line was in use.

This was the way of the world for 100 years. Nowadays, however, anyone can instantly get in touch with anyone else with a few simple steps. Texting, social networks and smart phones have connected individuals instead of households.. Back in the dark ages of the late 1990s, these forms of communication technology were merely some crazy person’s science fiction - much like regular bathing was in the actual Dark Ages.

Of course, like all good things, there is the down side. Privacy basically doesn’t exist anymore, and it is very easy to overexpose yourself. Some have figured out how to use this to their advantage.

You want to be popular? Post something witty as your "status update" and see how many people "like" it. You want to be famous? Post a video to You Tube of you and your buddies doing something stupid and see how many people “lol” and then try to replicate it. Maybe that 30-second clip of you getting smacked in the face with a stick will make you the next Justin Bieber. That’s very unlikely, though. It will just make you that guy that got hit in the face with a stick. Congratulations. You’re a celebrity.

That’s only scratching the surface. Back in the late 90s (when I was teenager), Google, the big-daddy godfather of search engines, was crawling through only a few million web pages (can you imagine!). Today, it scours somewhere in the vicinity of 10 billion web pages looking for the answer to your "How do I become rich without working" inquiry. The Internet is big, and it’s easy to get lost and lose yourself in its vastness.

Most of the time I consider myself an advocate of the Internet. I’m on it all the time and will find life very difficult if it ever disappears. I’m a firm believer that it has been a positive addition to society, and in some cases, made our population more knowledgeable. But I'm also part skeptic, and admit that there are negatives, which I think we’re all familiar with so I won’t waste time (identity theft, blah blah blah).

In all seriousness, though, I do find it a little unnerving that there is so much information on the World Wide Web that it may be possible to confuse actual facts with popular facts. And the more that these popular facts are accepted as actual facts, the more likely it is that the truth will be obscured. Sometimes it’s good to be a bit of a skeptic.  

What have we learned? In the last decade or so, as I grew from teenager to slightly older than a teenager, the method with which we contact with each other has come a long way. I'm actually in awe of how far we've come in the world of communication in such a short period of time. It’s become smaller, faster, and much more accessible.

With such technology and ease of communication at our disposal, the act of getting in touch and staying in touch has become so passive that it’s practically a non-issue. So, once the connection is made – which happens almost instantly - and it’s time to go out, what is there to do and where does a teen go in our community?

Next time, I'll share the conversations that I had with a few Malvernites and Malverne High School grads. Some were teenagers a decade ago, and some are teenagers now. But both can help shed light on whether or not this new technology really plays any part in local socialization, or if “hanging out” is a timeless activity regardless of generation, decade or technology.

If you would like to chime in, I'd be happy to converse with you. Either leave comments or email me at davecoonan@gmail.com.

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