February 14 – February 21, 2008 Edition O'Reilly Teen Panel
Turns Up Surprises
On Digital Lifestyles

NEW YORK, NY/2/14/2006–A group of six teenagers ranging from 13 to 20 gave some surprising insights into their digital lifestyles February 13 at the O'Reilly Tools for Change conference in New York. Some said the informal discussion was skewed. The panel was composed of young white teens from the New York area, and discussed digital and reading behaviors issues before a packed audience. Here are a few paraphrased highlights:

Asked what brand of information they most trust, responses included BBC, New York Times, New York Magazine, CNN, Vogue, In Style and People.

When searching online, where would they begin? Five of the six said they would begin with Google. Two mentioned Wikepedia and one said she began with databases, books or Britannica, adding that Wikepedia is good for background only.

How do they trust the information they receive as result of Google searches? Several said they usually check a few different sites, looking at the sources, the author, and the date of the last update. Others had no particular comment.

The moderator asked how many close friends they have and have talked to within the past two months. One girl said, "hundreds," while most answered they have five or six friends they would consider "close." Several said they use both Face Book and My Space to communicate with friends, but surprisingly they don't really like using the services. "Both are necessary evils," said one panelist. " "I don't like to use it, but I use it! said another with respect to My Space. Another said she stopped using Face Book when she began receiving "creepy" e-mails from another user. "Face Book is very important," she added, "but I don't like it."

When asked how many people they are connected to, one answered "Thousands." Most, however, said they communicate with 200 or 300 other kids, and most do so through school networks.

"I call my friends on the phone."

"I text message," said the only male on the panel.

"I talk to friends at school during the day or at a party."

And how heavily do they use text messaging as a way to communicate?

"It's [texting] a waste of time. I see my close friends two or three times a month, and if I don't see them, I call them on the phone."

"Text messaging," the male panelist responded.

"It takes an hour just to say 'Hi' on text messaging, so I don't. " The audience laughed.

"I don't [text]," said another flatly.

"I used to text but not anymore."

"I went over my budget so my parents made me cut back. This month I'm under [the use limit].

"Text is preferred" responded another.

They were asked what "creations" they posted online. They responded:

"I upload photos on Face Book, but I don't upload anything else. I don't like the idea of people stealing my work."

"I have posted school papers online."

"This may sound weird, but I have a small business and I post information about my product. It's a cat repellant."

"I don't post anything online."

"I post and turn in my school papers online. That's all"

"I post pictures on Face Book. I tried once to post a video and couldn't do it, and my brother wouldn't help."

The use of textbooks in hardcopy form was mixed. Textbooks are still used in the classroom, but fewer books and more online texts definitely seem to be the trend.

Asked when they last used the library, here are some of their responses:

"I was in a library more than a year ago–to attend a presentation."

"A while ago," answered the male.

"Not since last year, when I visited the school library to look for a book."

"I went to the school library today." The audience clapped.

"I went to the school library, not the public library, about six months ago."

The consensus seems to be that kids, at least these kids, aren't as passionate about the web and texting as media might have us believe. With respect to using libraries, however, the panelist seem to bear out statistics, that young people aren't reading books, or if so, they aren't going to the libraries to do so.

Read more Authorlink publishing news from this conference