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Gabriel Goldstein, a freshman at James Madison University in Virginia, and his former high school girlfriend spent at least 90 percent of their relationship typing messages over the Internet.

“It’s fast and convenient,” the 18-year-old said. “It’s easier to say things that you might not want to say over the phone. And you don’t have to be there to see the rejection or reaction.”

Rana Hanocka, a high school freshman in Norwalk, Conn., admits she was considered a dork until she started expressing herself and reaching out to others more via instant messaging. Her voice and confidence emboldened, she now hangs with a more popular crowd at school.

Her conversations that start on campus almost always continue online as soon as she gets home from school and parks herself in front of the computer, usually for about four hours a day. During the past summer, she hardly used the phone at all and instead kept up with dozens of her buddies in cyberspace.

It’s not just with friends.

Hanocka is closer to her 36-year-old aunt in Brooklyn than she would ever have been without their thrice weekly instant message sessions. Her aunt, Lara Wechsler, a graduate student in philosophy, says she knows what moods her young niece is in just by reading her instant messaging profile, which the teen constantly updates.

For Rana’s mother, Kayla Hanocka, as with many other parents, there’s no more leaving notes on refrigerators.

“I just e-mail her,” Kayla Hanocka said, “or text message her instead.”

Copyright 2004 Associated Press.  All rights reserved.  This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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