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What some very smart ninth graders can teach us about technology

A few months back, Bridget and I tried an experiment in being "wired and well-mannered.'' For a week, we made an effort to put our mobile phone behavior on hold if there were people actually in front of us.

MHZNovaHigh And, we sort of forgot about it. That is, until last week, when we encountered some ninth-graders in Brenda Amador's English class at Nova High School in Davie. (Thanks to Nova student Carly Gourley for taking this picture of the class!) They're reading 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, and as part of it, have given up all technology for a week. Amador said she's been doing the experiment for three years now. The goal, she said, is to "recognize the intrusiveness of technology and that it can create social misfits."

Amador's no Luddite; she uses her iPhone in class to help teach. But the veteran teacher said she's also noticed that as more students text instead of talk they have a harder time making conversation -- even looking adults in the eye.

Ninth-grader Marlee Abbott said she realized that she had a hard time communicating ``beyond 160 characters.''

As a run-up to the week without technology, Abbott and her classmates had to track how much they use their mobile phones, computers and other devices. Some realized they sent anywhere from 50 to 200 text messages a day -- and that they had friendships based entirely on texting, but when they actually were face to face with these people, they had nothing to say.

What they've learned so far: If you're instant messaging or texting someone, they can't tell if they have your full attention. (The recipient could be playing solitaire, one student pointed out, and they'd never know.) Conversations, they told us, are hard because they require focusing on the person in front of you and having to listen and respond -- rather than being able to have time to craft the perfect typed response. They love technology, but they're thinking that moderation is the key. Which Bridget and I thought were fairly astute observations that should be shared with adults, too.

One note for parents: It's not the best netiquette role modeling when you tell your kids not to text at the dinner table, but you bring your Blackberry. There are some work emergencies that can't be avoided -- but trust us, your teenagers can tell the difference.

Anything you think parents and/or teenagers should know about being wired and well-mannered?

Finally - Bridget and I did an interview about this topic on WLRN this morning. If you missed it, here it is:

Poked 1984 - WLRN Miami Herald News


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