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Tuning in Tomorrow’s Teenagers

Opinion: Whether kids are schooling or cooling out, everything will depend on their connections-electronic connections.

Have you spent any extended amount of time with today’s wired teenager? It’s unnerving. Pagers beep, beepers page, cell phones play entire movements of major Austrian composers when they ring. Then there are the chat rooms and instant messages and e-mail and personal Web pages.

I recently spent a weekend with my eighth-grade nephew and watched him collaborate on a group assignment using chat and e-mail. He then mined some details from a CD-ROM encyclopedia (footnotes automatically appended) and put it all up on a classroom Web page. In 45 minutes.

Sigh. Now, back when I was in junior high

Whoops, let’s get back to today and deal with the harrowing truth that this is only the beginning.

Let’s consider some emerging technologies just now breaking the event horizon. You can bet that like Walkmans, PlayStations, MP3 players and everything else, these will be marketed squarely at the young and the restless.

For a sense of where things are heading, check out Texas Instruments’ TI-83 Plus Silver Edition handheld computer, designed specifically for today’s wired high schooler. The Silver Edition, says TI’s promotional material, “has the speed and strength for students to manage daily and weekly tasks, create spreadsheets, measure scientific data and study with electronic flashcards for all their classes.”

Not only can the TI-83 run up to 94 applications, students can develop their own applications. Already, students have created personalized applications in study areas such as astronomy. How long before some teen genius develops an algorithm for term papers on Thoreau?

Sorry Dad, I’m Beaming into Tokyo

You know about the impending revolution (well, the in-the-not-too-distant-future revolution) of 3G wireless: third-generation mobile wireless networks, with seamless global roaming for voice, data, even one-on-one video telephony. This revolution actually is coming, although “2.5G” is what we’ll see first.

You can imagine the likely impact of a pocket-sized personal movie system and Star-Trek-era videophone. You think your kids add weight to the telecom bill now? Just wait until vendors start flooding high schools with 3G devices. The traditional penalty of suspending phone privileges will get a lot harder to enforce as well.

Once 3G wireless systems are efficiently deployed, these types of handheld devices will become absurdly powerful. Check out the PacketVideo Web site for a glimpse of what will happen when broadband video comes to handhelds.

Eye Candy

It gets weirder: the first generation of headset monitors is already on the market-check out the Olympus Eye-Trek for a good example. Researchers are already finding ways to reduce these cybergoggles to the size and weight of a regular pair of sunglasses. Here’s a clunky prototype demonstration from the folks at

The idea of wearable computers has been around for a while, but the reality is closer than you might think-see Wearables Central, for example. Then-and we hesitate to even mention this-there is the astounding Techno Bra.

Content Just Wants to Be Free (Except for Term Papers)

Of course, we can anticipate further insanity in the amount and detail of information online. As my nephew amply demonstrated, writing a class paper just ain’t what it used to be.

Visit the appalling for a glimpse of what lies ahead. I particularly like the disclaimer (“We Do Not Write Papers!”) juxtaposed with the “Free Papers” link (“…unlimited access to more than 50,000 free term papers, research papers, theses and dissertations written by graduate and undergraduate students as well as professors-all for a one-time small fee!”)

In other words, doesn’t offer complete research papers, except that it does; and they’re free, except that they’re not.

And so in the next few years, our humbly endeavoring students can watch movies during study hall on their sunglasses, video chat with pals globally on their Palm Pilot, download essential term papers into their fanny packs, and for all we know, print everything out via hologram built into their belly button rings.

Sigh. Why, back when I was in high school…

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