MediaPost Media Magazine

by Lauren Berger

Teens sound off on cell phones, social networks, and why they can’t log off

E-mail is obsolete, cell phones are rarely used for talking, social networking is an addiction and computers get equal time with TV. Welcome to teenage America.

On a typical weekday morning, 17-year-old Columbus, Ohio high school student Anne McCaffrey wakes up to the soulful whispers of sleepy-voiced rocker, John Mayer, or the twangy chorus of an upbeat Kenny Chesney number – whichever happens to pop up on her iPod playlist first. After a quick shower and last-minute wardrobe change, she searches through hundreds of burned CD’s for a suitable drive-to-school soundtrack. In class, Anne ditches her beloved tunes for the teen-mastered art of stealth texting, engaging in multiple, full-length conversations from beneath her desk. But thanks to an iPod-friendly after-school job twisting pretzels at Auntie Anne’s, the self-proclaimed music junkie can resume her habit. (“The customers don’t mind.”)

At the end of the day, all media collide during her nighttime routine: homework mixed with instant messaging and MySpace browsing; several more rounds of text-message conversation; and two hours of cell-phone time with her long-distance boyfriend.

The final tally? Text count: 60 messages; phone time: 2 hours; online (MySpace, IM, homework): 3 hours; music listening: 8 hours

The Buddy List

Anne’s media habits might be dissimilar to those of people even one generation older, but reflect those of a sizable portion of today’s tech-happy, texting, MySpace-surfing teen population.

Teens today spend as much time with the computer as with TV, communicate via text messages while eschewing e-mail, and create their own media on MySpace and other social networking sites, according to a recent study by Ball State University’s Center for Media Design, slated for release this month. In that study, researchers led by primary investigator Robert Papper tracked the media usage habits of 15 Indiana teens (ranging from 13 to 17 years of age) during a typical school day.

Overall, teenagers spent less time with media (7 hours, 5 minutes) than adults in the same community (almost 9 hours, according to Ball State’s previous report, Middletown Media Studies II) – a difference the Ball State researchers attributed to school-related demands.

But the most significant difference wasn’t the variation in total time spent. It was in TV-watching. The teens in the study were exposed to TV for an average of 120 minutes a day – the same amount of time they spent on the computer. Adults, by contrast, watch an average of 240 minutes a day, according to Middletown Media Studies II.

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