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January 6, 2006
Happy New Year, everyone! Here's our lineup for these first days of '06
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Teen's-eye-view of tech in 2006
Ironically but fairly predictably, just as teen blogging arrives on the radar screens of parents and the mainstream news media (and not long after it's acquired by News Corp. for $560 million!), it's beginning to peak out among teenagers. At least according to smart and articulate 14-year-old podcaster, Web publisher, athlete, sports fan, and honors student Corey Durkin (his newest site is Sportshawks.com).
I first "met" Corey when he emailed FamilyTechTalk.com partner Larry Magid and me about adding a teen pundit to our podcast. Since teen tech expertise is very valuable, I got right back to Corey and, with his dad's permission and after quite a bit of schedule-juggling (students are so busy!), interviewed him by phone and email about what 2006 looks like, technology-wise, for teens. Yawns over MySpace was just one of his predictions. Here's more:
General teen tech interests: "I believe that the interests in 2006 are definitely going to be in music - iPods [and] the Dell [MP3] handheld products [see Dell's site]. Some kids have 5-gig MP3 players but they quickly realize that it is nowhere near the amount of space they need. The guys just buy the iPods but the girls will be the ones buying the little cases for them and accessorizing. I also think that once Microsoft ships more Xbox 360s, the guys in particular will flock to the stores to buy them. A big issue I see materializing in the next two or three months will be the debate: [Sony] PS3 vs. [Xbox] 360.
On brands: "I think teens pay less attention to what they're using as long as it works and the basic features will entertain them."
[That surprised me because I'd heard there was so much customizing going on in instant-messaging and with cellphones, so I asked him to elablorate, and the gender divide came up....]
"The girls don't usually pay as close attention to the tech as the guys. It seems to take them slightly longer to find out what's new. I'm not sure why, but I've had many experiences of [saying to girls], 'Have you heard about [the PSP]? You haven't? Wow. Let me tell you about it.' Plus, many teens want the newest thing but they don't have the cash, and by the time they save up enough money for the product, a newer and better version has already hit stores."
On MySpace: "I think the popularity of MySpace is dwindling - it's definitely not as popular at this point. People are getting somewhat bored of it. Three or four months ago, I saw people log into their account every day. Now they often go for days without bothering. The college service 'Facebook' is not as advanced but it is fairly popular."
[Surprised to hear this, too, I asked him if he meant MySpace only, or if blogging in general had peaked....]
"Yes, I think the whole blogging thing is dwindling. Music, pics, videoblogging, podcasting, it's [all getting] faster & easier. You can listen to the 'audio blogs' [podcasts] in the car, on your iPod, and on CD. But reading the long rants [people post in sites like MySpace] aren't something people are doing as much."
On girls: "I don't think girls want to be gaming because I don't think there are many games geared towards them, at least not on consoles. They will sometimes play games on the Internet, but very simple games - nothing like World of Warcraft [rated T/13+ at ESRB.org]. Most of them are content to play The Sims [rated T/13+] on their computers instead of Halo 2 [rated M/17+ for "blood and gore, language, and violence"]. Girls generally don't enjoy sports games/shooters as much as guys, so there's not much of a reason for them to get involved in hardcore gaming. They will create works of art on their AIM away messages and will still use LiveJournal and Xanga [blogging sites] on occasion."
On phone texting: "A lot of people I know have cellphones but they don't text message because it costs too much money and their parents are the ones usually paying the bill. They are lucky if they can convince their parents to buy 500 minutes per month. I talk more on my phone than I text."
More on digital music: "Music fans are still loving the iPods. Video iPods (and vidcasts) are becoming more and more popular. At this point, the TV shows that are available on iTunes are great ('Law & Order,' 'Monk,' 'Desperate Housewives'). I like 'Law & Order' + 'Monk,' but they are not very popular with most teens. People are buying up the music videos (although personally, I find them a waste of money. When they buy the videos, they are buying for the song, not the graphics - they're buying duplicates of the songs they already have, i.e. 'Gold Digger' by Kanye West."
File-sharing: "A lot of kids are using programs like LimeWire to download their songs, so that when they open iTunes, the 'Shared Music' folder automatically pops up. They still aren't quite educated about the dangers of these programs. They will install tons of spyware that is not easily detectable because it is protected by the [file-sharing] program being installed. These programs are still very popular because teens don't have to pay, [paying for music being] a concept lost on many teenagers these days, and they aren't forced [by their parents] to use only MSN Music or iTunes [legal music services].
Music devices: "Kids are wanting iPods so badly because: a) they are fashionable, and b) they won't do the research and don't understand that there are better options out there - other and better options such as the PSP [PlayStation Portable]. A downside of the video iPod is that its battery life while playing video is very limited. While many A-list stars are in possession of this fashion item, the PSP is more bang for your buck: bigger screen, able to play DVDs, able to play music off of memory cards, video games. It makes much more sense if you want the rest of those features for virtually the same price, plus the price of the memory card."
[Among other themes, I'm hearing "media convergence" as a particular interest of teens with limited budgets"! As for how convergence is going for everybody, see Washington Post tech writer Rob Pegoraro on its ups and downs.]
If a teenager at your house has a different perspective on any of the above, I'd love to hear about it - from you or that young technologist. Email me anytime via firstname.lastname@example.org.
* * * *Web News Briefs
- iPods & ears: Listen to this!
Everyone using an iPod or any MP3 player needs to read this story. Undoubtedly because of the iPod's popularity, Pete Townshend's warning was picked up by news outlets worldwide. The Who guitarist said it was his use of earphones in the recording studio, not the loud music he played on stage, that caused irreparable damage to his hearing (he "has to take 36-hour breaks between recording sessions to allow his ears to recover," the Associated Press reports). But earbuds are the worst. "In a study published last year in the journal Ear and Hearing, researchers at Harvard Medical School looked at a variety of headphones and found that, on average, the smaller they were, the higher their output levels at any given volume-control setting." Because tiny phones in ears so far don't do a good enough job of blocking outside sounds, people compensate by cranking up the volume. Northwestern University audiologist and professor Dean Garsecki told the Scripps Howard News Service that he has a colleague at Wichita State U. who pulls earbuds out of students' ears and asks them if he can measure their output. He often finds them listening at about rock concert level - "enough to cause hearing loss after only about an hour and 15 minutes," Scripps Howard reports. And an Australian study found that about a quarter of iPod users 18-54 listen at volumes sufficient to cause hearing damage. The BBC quotes an entry in Townshend's Web site as saying, "I have unwittingly helped to invent and refine a type of music that makes its principal proponents deaf. My intuition tells me there is terrible trouble ahead."
What to do? "The rule of thumb suggested by researchers at Boston Children's Hospital is to hold the volume of a music player no higher than 60% of the maximum, and use it for only about an hour a day," Scripps Howard reports. Meanwhile, music players will lead consumer electronics in 2006, the BBC reports, citing figures from the giant Consumer Electronics Show now going on in Las Vegas. "Sales of MP3 players soared by 200% in 2005 to $3bn [and] the trend will continue in 2006."
- PC patch confusion
If you feel confused, you're in good company. The latest Windows security breach, the unofficial patches, and the official patch Microsoft promised for next week but then later changed its mind even have Washington Post PC security writer Brian Krebs scratching his head (see "Patch or Pay?")! In short (believe it or not), Microsoft announced Thursday it would issue the patch early "in response to strong customer sentiment that the release should be made available as soon as possible," ZDNET reported. [To get the patch, go to http://update.microsoft.com or look into automating patches, if you haven't already.]
That announcement came after at least two unofficial patches had been released by security code writers (one actually endorsed by the SANS Institute, which usually advises people to wait for the PC maker's patch), Brian reported earlier. To add to the confusion, earlier, a beta version of the official patch was inadvertently leaked to the Net at large, CNET reported Microsoft to have said. Some experts said it would be crazy to wait for the official Microsoft patch (see this ZDNET security blog), but Brian commented: "Microsoft says Windows users who have questions, concerns or problems surrounding this issue can call 1-866-PCSAFETY. Keep in mind, however, that if you do apply this third-party patch, Microsoft will in all likelihood refuse to help you return your PC to its previous pre-patch state should the patch somehow muck it up." What a morass! There simply is no final or fool-proof solution to the family PC security problem, though the three cardinal rules (an antivirus service like McAfee or TrendMicro, a firewall, and keeping up with MS patches) help hugely. So what's a PC owner to do in a confusing situation like this? Probably the best thing is trying out the free beta version Windows OneCare (here's its security info page). Then, if your PC gets infected, it's Microsoft's fault and the company might help you.
- 'Convergence' in our homes
They're after our family rooms, you know. Our whole houses, in fact, not to mention our lives, since the convergence they keep talking about in all the coverage this week of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas is highly mobile, of course. There's all the competition among music providers for real estate on our cellphones and throughout our homes (see this in the New York Times). Then there's news that Google and Yahoo plan to move onto our TV screens, with music videos, news, weather, etc. (see this front-page Times piece). That would be scary for the good ol' TV networks, except that CBS reportedly plans to sell downloadable TV shows through Google. If you can't lick 'em, join 'em, must be the strategy, since Google and Yahoo will certainly sell advertising associated with their TV programming. The Times's team of reporters in Vegas describes how it all works. But all that wheeling and dealing for our ears and eyeballs is behind the scenes. In its "Best of CES Awards," CNET presents the finalists among all the gadgets on the show floor: several in every category, from camcorders to MP3 and portable video players to "Emerging Tech."
- Downloads up, CDs down
The trend continues, and it's bad news for brick-'n'-mortar music stories. 602.2, down from 650.8 11/12/25 Album sales were down 7% last year from 2004, the Associated Press reports, but sales of tunes from the online music services were up 148% over 2004's. That sounds fabulous for the recording industry, but 95% of music is sold in CD format. "The top three best-selling albums of 2005 through Dec. 21 were rapper 50 Cent's 'The Massacre,' which had sold 4.8 million copies, followed by Mariah Carey's 'The Emancipation of Mimi,' with 4.6 million sold, and Kelly Clarkson's 'Breakaway,' which sold 3.3 million units," the AP cites Nielsen SoundScan as reporting.
- 2006: 'Golden Age of gaming'?
That's the view of UK gamemaker David Braben. In a commentary at the BBC, he likens this juncture in the gaming industry to the 1930s for filmmaking, when movies went from sheer spectacle to serious artform. He says that now, for gaming, the artistic content is becoming "the main driver." The BBC's gaming editor adds that, with the release of Sony's PlayStation 3 and Nintendo's Revolution (the Xbox 360 was available before the holidays), "over the next 12 months, the most powerful piece of technology in the home is likely to be the games console in the living room, rather than the PC in the bedroom." The explanation is not just next-generation graphics and games, it's media convergence - that word that keeps coming up in turn-of-the-year reporting. These consoles play other media, too, and they are communications tools as well (witness Xbox Live's voice and text chat and text alerts on cellphones).
- Parents pay for school laptops?
That's what's expected of parents in Fullerton, Calif., USATODAY reports. "The public school system in this quiet city 27 miles southeast of Los Angeles is pushing the frontiers of computer technology in the classroom with a program that puts a laptop computer into the backpacks of children as early as first grade. It is pushing the boundaries of financing, too, by asking parents to pay $500 a year for three years so each of more than 2,000 elementary and middle school children can have their own Apple iBook G4 laptop." The program, at four of the district's 20 schools has created a storm of controversy, USATODAY adds, quoting a number of Fullerton parents. District officials say parents who can't afford the $1,500 can get financial aid.
- The latest on kid phones
Regular cellphones and young children don't mix, many parents find, for security reasons (another way to talk to strangers) and financial ones (still more uncontrolled minutes!). "No, if you're going to issue your child a cellphone, it had better be ultra-simple, ultra-limited, ultra-rugged and ultra-parent-controlled," writes New York Times tech writer David Pogue in his review of Verizon's LG Migo, The Firefly, and the Enfora TicTalk. Fortunately for parents, they look pretty much like "real cellphones," so kids who like electronic toy that mimic grownup ones will probably like them. But they're all about parental control, so no one over the age of around 9 or 10 is going to want one. They connect with only a handful of pre-programmed phone numbers, and "they're designed exclusively for voice calls; they can't download ringers, send text messages, do email, take pictures, check voice mail or get on the Web," David says. One divorced mom emailed me because she wanted a phone for her daughter to go with the child on weekends she was with her dad - a phone no one at the dad's house would want to use. I told her these phones were pretty perfect for that, but there would be limited appeal for her daughter beyond a certain age!
- The appeal of text to teens
"Presence," convenience, and a degree of anonymity are three big reasons why teenagers love text messaging on phones, computers, and other devices. The article in the Detroit News blurs any distinction between the devices pretty much the way teenagers do. "Presence" is simply the ability to know if friends are available for chatting - the way instant-messaging services (as opposed to telephones) let users know that. Convenience is obvious - kids say IM and texting is more convenient than talking (and a bit less "formal," apparently). The anonymity issue is interesting. Teens like texting because they can communicate directly but slightly indirectly at the same time. The Detroit News quotes a psychologist who helps parents and teens negotiate cyberspace, Dr. Michele Ondersma, as saying that teenagers say things online that they wouldn't say in person. A middle-school tech expert I spoke with last year told me about the sense of control IM-ers have when conducting, say, five separate conversations simultaneously (see "IM anthropology"). The Detroit News article has a sidebar: "IM-speak," a directory of acronyms, or text shortcuts, IM-ers use, like GAL ("get a life") and CUL8TR ("see you later").
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That does it for this week. Have a great weekend!
Anne Collier, Editor
Net Family News
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