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The Technology Divide

In type that scrolls up the screen like the preface for Star Wars, a YouTube video reads, "For years, parents could not text message. They could not figure out how to record a voice mail. They could not even connect to the Internet without using AOL."

Warning that parents are adapting to technological gadgets, it flips to a short clip of a man learning to use the video capabilities on his cell phone. "Watch with caution," it closes, "and pray that your own parents do not gain these powers."

Techno-tweens and teens relax.

According to a new study from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, there's a long way to go before adults embrace interactive online media to the degree that teens have.

An estimated 64 percent of those ages 12 to 17 have created some form of online content.

While only 8 percent of adults have created a blog, 28 percent of teens have.

While 55 percent of online teens have a profile on a social network, such as Facebook or MySpace, only 20 percent of adult users do.

And while 27 percent of teens have created or worked on their own Web pages, 14 percent of adults have.

The report also gives insight into some popular stereotypes.

Boys indeed post more video files and play more online games, but girls dominate the blogosphere and photo postings.

Teens from single-parent or lower-income households are more likely to blog than affluent teens in more traditional households.

Although e-mail is losing relevance, traditional modes of communication, such as land lines and face-to-face contact, still matter.

And content creators aren't so wrapped up in the virtual world that the real world suffers -- they're more likely than their less-creative peers to participate in school clubs and to hold a part-time job.

Amanda Ryan, a 17-year-old high school senior, estimates she spends about two hours a day on the computer, half doing research for college applications and half networking.

She has a blog, where she posts digital photos. She has a MySpace and a Facebook page (as Amanda puts it, most people have both.) She texts, much to her parents' dismay. "They don't understand texting. If I'm in the car and texting, they'll say, 'I'm talking to you,' but they weren't talking with me at that moment."

She helps her English teacher with computer glitches (Flickering screen? Try adjusting the refresh rate on the monitor). And, since she just got a video camera for Christmas, she will soon be posting her own work on video-sharing sites such as YouTube or Google Video.

Amanda is what the report calls a "super-communicator" -- those 28 percent of teens who use multiple communication channels, such as texting, cell phones, social network sites and instant messaging to connect with others.

If you've ever had an 8-year-old program your cell phone, you probably know that the younger generation is best-equipped to take advantage of the Internet.

What this report shows, however, compared with a report in 2004, is that online communications continue to evolve. The number of bloggers doubled in the short time that elapsed between the two reports. And posting content, such as stills and videos, often launches virtual conversations, with as many as 89 percent of teens reporting that they get feedback on shared postings.

"The nature of conversation and communication is changing in a world in which young people are becoming very comfortable with expressing themselves through video and audio and mixing it together," said Mary Madden, a Pew senior research specialist and one of the report's authors. "That's a very different kind of expression. It's not as controlled. It's more chaotic. And that's difficult for adults to understand, how teens can navigate these spaces."

One surprise for Madden was that older technologies, such as land-line phones, aren't being displaced.

"The traditional media channels aren't going away, but the new technologies are just being layered on what's already there," she said. "The super-communicators are seeing friends face-to-face or calling over the land lines as much as the average teen, it's just they are also using social networking sites and cell phones as well."

Social implications are less defined.

"As has been the case with any new communications technology, there will be trade-offs and we don't know what those will be," Madden said. "We know that young people are embracing these tools in ways that adults haven't done to the same degree. What we don't know is how that will change patterns in society and in the workplace over time."

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