Generation IM

Sociologists call them Generation M for "millenium" but Generation IM might be a better moniker. Because for the vast majority of tweens and teens, life without instant messenger is like not having a phone - unthinkable.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor

Although sociologists have dubbed the generation born between 1980 and 2000 the "M" (for millennial) generation, perhaps the "G" generation would be more appropriate. "G" for guinea pigs because being available 24/7 and having most of your hundreds of friends be of the virtual kind is one grand experiment. What will be the long-term social impact of all this technology, asks The New York Times.

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently did a study of teens online and found that 87 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds, or 21 million children, are regularly online, 75 percent use instant messaging (82 percent of them by seventh grade) and 84 percent own cellphones and iPods, as well as laptops, Blackberries and other PDAs. So will this hyper-connected generation have a normal social life?

""It's not like we're robot people who live in a fantasy world. Everyone, even us, has to leave their room. Because we go to school. Where we talk to other humans and get a sense of what they're really like," said Nora Delighter, 14, a freshman at the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn.

The ubiquitous instant messaging is like the telephone is to baby-boomers. AOL recently reported that 66 percent of Americans 13 to 21 now prefer it to e-mail.

"Absolutely everyone, everywhere, IMs," says Julia Marani, 14, a freshman at Marymount School in Manhattan. "E-mail is slower, more the thing you'd use to write your parents or a teacher. IM is the Main Thing. Really, I don't see how you could avoid it, even if you wanted to. And it is addictive. You can mean to go on 15 minutes, look up and see it's 3 a.m."

IM seems to have some unforeseen benefits. It appears that, contrary to many parents' suspicions, IM actually strengthens relationships. It also helps shy people feel comfortable communicating.

"You can talk to them without the problem of facial expressions. This is great with new girls who might judge your appearance. It also covers those gaps with boys. You can be so much bolder online, and I don't have to worry about being so witty or unique. It's controllable; you have time to craft an answer, even if," as she concedes, "that has a kind of questionable aspect, like you're changing your personality and then when you see that person, uh, is it obvious you've been trying to impress them," said Laurice Fox, 16, a junior at Brooklyn Friends, a private preparatory school.

Most of the online chatter is done by girls 15 to 17, according to the Pew report. When students graduated high school, the numbers go down as students gravitate to smaller peer groups.

"It will be interesting to see, in 10 years, how these friendships hold up. With Facebook, you've already got people out of college maintaining a very broad range of contact — college, high school, third grade. It's a forum for connecting with others not physically present augmented by cellphones. And that, used responsibly, has limitless possibility," said says Dr. Sandra L. Calvert, chairwoman of the psychology department at Georgetown University and director of the Children's Digital Media Center.
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