Teenagers stay well-connected through cell phones, and by e-mailing and instant messaging on the Web
Next Frontiers: Keeping in Touch

By Bret Begun

It might sound like yada, yada, yada to you, but not to the teenagers who know how to talk the talk. Want a lesson? Listen up

Dec. 10 issue - Remember those reach-out-and-touch-someone commercials? Hang out with some well-wired teenagers and you'll feel better knowing they never leave each other alone. NEWSWEEK hung out with Short Hills, N.J., 17-year-old Rachel Fendell and her friends on Nov. 20, the day before her school of 546 students began Thanksgiving break. Conclusion: teenagers aren't just touched by technology, they're embraced by it. By cell phones, e-mail, the Web, instant messages. According to data from Northbrook, Ill., firm Teenage Research Unlimited, 37 percent of teens have cell phones; 78 percent go online at home. Ninety percent say the Net is "cool"; 84 percent say the same thing about partying. It's not that high school is cooler than it used to be. It's just a lot easier to complain about it now. A day in the life:

2:46 p.m., Newark Academy, Livingston, N.J. Rachel and classmate Stefanie are chatting in the hallway. Stefanie's Nokia rings. It's Mom, just touching base. "Wait, can I call you back?" she asks and hangs up. She turns to Rachel to address a much more pressing matter: what's going on tonight?

2:55, Academy's Interactive Learning Center Rachel logs on to
Newark's server (it lets her access documents and programs like AppleWorks and PowerPoint) and explains that she's got two AOL names: one for general use, one for colleges that has a less cutesy profile. "I'm paranoid," she says. "What if schools analyze how I described myself?"

4:34, Polymnian yearbook office Rachel's voice mails: (1) Sam, Camp Tapawingo friend from nearby South Orange. She's going to the Short Hills mall for pants. (2) Lindsey, from Houston, friend from a Northwestern University summer program. "She says she misses me so much," Rachel says. (3) Sam again. Bad news: Rachel's favorite candy store has closed. Ugh. Where now to find those low-fat Creamsicle chews?

4:38, en route to Starbucks Dad, who works in Portland, Ore., Monday to Friday, calls. "I talk to him multiple times a day," says Rachel. "If I call him once and don't call back, it's just to say hi. If I call twice, it's important and he'll call back."

4:45, Starbucks Call to friend Michelle to see why she wasn't at school. Reason: she woke up at 5 a.m. to do econ homework, and her left eye was badly swollen. "Omigod, you poor thing!" says Rachel, who hands the phone to Krupa, a friend. Says Krupa, "I don't even know how to turn this thing off."

5:12, Rahul's driveway The sweets that the yearbook staff needs for a fund-raiser are inside Rahul's house. Rachel, Krupa and Rahul are locked out-and it's cold! Rahul borrows a phone to call his brother inside. "Raj, open the garage door now!" Rahul's parents rescinded his phone for failure to manage minutes.

5:20, Krupa's foyer Lindsey does miss Rachel and calls again. She's excited about seeing her and their other Northwestern friends at a reunion in New York City in January. "I talked to [summer pal] Dan," Rachel tells her. "No, online ... We made up ... He's like, 'I feel bad. It was my fault' ... Oh, and I got into Michigan."

6:29, Rachel's room Rachel has six AOL instant messages (and
12 e-mails) waiting on her laptop. She leaves it online all day. Her away note instructed: "Leave me a message so I can smile when vacation starts. Mwah xoxoxo." Nineteen (of 151) buddies are signed on. Buddies are organized by: SeNiOrS '99 (Camp Tapawingo friends), NeWaRk (friends from school), BeNeLuX 2000 (friends from tennis camp in Europe), PoRtLaNd (friends from when she lived in Oregon), BoLleTtIeRi (friends from tennis camp in Florida), ChErUbS (Northwestern friends)-and FrIeNdS (friends) ... She IMs a Northwestern friend, Brian. He says hi, but he's busy multitasking. He's making a fantasy football transaction on the Web to help his ailing Brooklyn Bums, downloading Gnutella, a music file-sharing program, and transferring tracks like Aerosmith's "Just Push Play" to his MP3 player ... Sinking into a fluffy love seat, Rachel gets to work on tonight's plans. She IMs Erica (Should I go out?); Becky (You going out?); Sara (You're going out? With?). "I'm on two hours a night"-25 minutes is the average, according to Jupiter Media Metrix-"but you could be on here forever."

8:33, Joe's American Bar & Grill A few pals, one topic: boys.
(NEWSWEEK agreed to conceal identities. Luckily, they all ate salad.)
"I got an e-mail," says side salad, "that was like, 'I like you. I love your eyes. Eyes are windows to the soul.' I was like, 'What the hell?' No I-like-you stuff online!" "Yeah," says half a Cobb salad, "but it's hard to be like, 'I like you' in real life, so writing helps." Says honey chicken with balsamic: "This kid-he asked me out online. He's like, 'So we're together?' It's just so impersonal." "This one guy," says half a Cobb, "I would never go out with this guy ever. It's easier to say that online. 'You'd never go out with me?' 'No, you're more like a brother'."

9:40, driving Rachel calls Stefanie to see what's happening. Answer: not much. She's watching guys in a basement watching basketball. Sam's on her phone with a buddy. "She's freaking. She had some major decision to make," she tells Rachel after hanging up so they can figure out where to go for ice cream.

10:28, Rachel's room Sam and Rachel call Boston friend Stephanie to confirm weekend plans. While they're talking, Stephanie e-mails Rachel about her love for "That '70s Show"/ "Dude, Where's My Car?" star Ashton Kutcher. Sam (she's the one paying for the call) tells Rachel (she's doing the talking) that "time is money. Rachel, tell Steph we love her and we'll speak to her about Ashton later" ... Lucy, a friend from St. Louis, IMs Rachel to tell her about a dream involving a crush. "We went on a date. I think we were in Maine. He was eating clam chowder; I was having a lobster roll." Lucy's also using a senior quote Rachel suggested from Garth Brooks: "So don't you sit upon the shoreline/And say you're satisfied/Choose to chance the rapids/And dare to dance the tide" ... Alex, a Portland friend, is online. He's working on college applications, listening to MTV's Internet radio. (For a Colby College essay, he needed Yahoo to remember a character's name from "A
Prayer for Owen Meany.") He's also just used a music file-sharing program to download Pink's "Get the Party Started." Which isn't happening in Short Hills tonight. "Everyone is sitting around, watching basketball," Rachel IMs Krupa.
"That's our evening."

© 2002 Newsweek, Inc.

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