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Technology and the teenager: living electronically in Tokyo
by Maya Hall

Computers, TV, portable MP3 players, DVD, Gameboys, e-mail, the Web. Those of us working with consumer-end high tech--designing it, programming it, or reporting on it--sometimes forget how the stock in trade of our daily work life is actually used by the folks "out there."

Computing Japan asked 16-year-old Maya Hall to tell us how technology weaves a thread through the modern teenager's life, and we breathed an editorial sigh of relief to find that some of the old standbys--like radios and stereos--are still very much in vogue. Sadly, CJ's collection of albums (including the then-to-die-for special edition of Bat out of Hell) seems to have become largely irrelevant.

Maya's report raises the question, however, faced by technology end-users of all generations. How much is time-saving, and how much is time-wasting? Are we teaching today's teens to become too isolated by wired living, or too dependent on gadgets (whether it's for entertainment, social interaction, or just plain old-fashioned shamming the math teacher), instead of fostering the growth of people skills?

6:00 a.m. WAKE UP. The first thing I do is turn on the stereo. I begin my morning with the radio to catch up on news and listen for the day's weather forecast. Friends of mine say that they prefer to stick to the TV first thing in the morning, but I presume that is only because they have one in their room (which I don't). Then I stumble into the bathroom and turn on a second, smaller, stereo that sits next to the sink. I sing along to the music as I brush my teeth and take a shower. While periodically checking the dozen or so clocks that lie scattered around my room and bathroom (each of which is set 5 minutes fast), I change and continue getting myself ready for the day.

7:00 a.m. LEAVE THE HOUSE. I slip my hook-behind-the-ear earphones on, and I am out the door with more music blasting from my Discman--most likely damaging my eardrums, but enjoyable nonetheless. Maybe someday when my ears become noticeably out of whack, I'll start concerning myself with the consequences of my listening habits, but until then, I need my music! I make use all of the options on this little piece of wizardry, including the Electric Shock Protection feature that keeps my music running smoothly even as I walk.

7:30 a.m. ON THE SCHOOL BUS. I have been on the bus for a while now, swapping CDs and batteries with my friends seated nearby. I look around and see one of my friends finishing up his schoolwork on his own laptop computer (spoiled if you ask me). Another is wasting money on her cellular phone again, talking to her friend whom she will be seeing shortly anyway. Many of the younger kids sit immersed in their own world of Gameboys. They stop only to look over the shoulder of the kid next to them to see how many more dragons he's slayed or dungeons she's broken out of.

8:30 a.m. ENGLISH. Now I'm at school, and we're working on the computers as always, as well as doing other, non-digital, activities. We have numerous technology centers in our school, as well as computers in almost every classroom, constantly updated with the most state-of-the-art hardware and software. One would imagine that most of this great equipment is merely to brag about in the "Please-Come-To-Our-School" pamphlets, but students do find a use for it all, in one way or another. All assignments in this class must be typed and stapled or else they will not be accepted--imagine that in the days of typewriters! Click, click, click (almost done). Click, click, OOPS! Start again...

10:30 a.m. MATH CLASS. A Texas Instruments TI-83 scientific calculator is required of all students. Most people have downloaded (or programmed their own) games onto their calculators to entertain themselves during boring classes. By vigorously pressing buttons as they play, students can often fool teachers into believing that they are hard at work on the problem at hand, when in fact they are doing quite the opposite.

12:30 p.m. LUNCH. While some students are actually eating, many people are once again making use of the computer areas, taking a few moments to check their e-mail or look up something on the Internet. An enormous number of people are scrambling about, frantically trying to finish assignments due next class (and assigned weeks before). They are printing out banners, graphs, and titles for posters, finishing up essays, typing out other assignments, and doing whatever else needs to be done.

1:00 p.m. TECHNOLOGY SKILLS CLASS. A compulsory subject for all students, and no one can graduate without receiving a credit for this class. Some of the topics studied include spreadsheets, graphs, databases, word processing, presentations, graphics, digital photography, scanning, and keyboarding.

2:00 p.m. UNSCHEDULED PERIOD/FREE TIME. Many students use this time to hang out and relax with friends. Some people are checking their e-mail again, or surfing the Internet to pass time. Still others are using the computers for, surprisingly enough, academic purposes, and are researching topics for class. In the library, students are using newspaper and magazine article archive programs to look up information from publications around the world. Others are using CD-ROM Encyclopedias. For those looking for books, the bookshelves in the library are designed to take up as little space as possible, and to slide mechanically across the floor at the push of a button to provide access to the desired bookshelf without wasting space. While this doesn't give off quite the cozy appeal of say, Grandma's house, it is an efficient use of space and students' time.

3:30 p.m. SCHOOL'S OUT. Some people stay to do more work on the school computers (whoever said kids these days don't work hard enough?) or talk with teachers, while others stay for after-school activities such as clubs, plays, or sports (digital photos taken of players and teams are often posted up on bulletin boards along with schedules and scores).

6:30 p.m. GOING HOME. Most of us are heading home by now. It is time to slip my trusty earphones back on (I'd been slipping them on and off between classes as well) as I pack up my books and sweaty sports gear and head home.

8:00 p.m. HOME. By this time, I am most likely sitting at the dinner table and complaining about the huge load of work my evil teachers have given me, and about how purchasing a new and improved computer will accelerate my working speed and improve my grades (unlikely, I know, but worth a shot).

9:00 p.m. HOMEWORK. After a few unnecessary phone calls, I am settled and ready to begin my work. Sitting quite uncomfortably at my desk, I turn on some more music to improve my concentration. I read whatever needs to be read, type (this time on our own computer) whatever needs to be typed, and do whatever needs to be done. Okay, so I spent a little time in between checking my e-mail and chatting to my friends across the world who just happened to be online at the same time. But that didn't take up too much of my time. We have about three or four hours of homework each night, so I usually get to bed at around 12:30 or 1:00 a.m.

1:00 a.m. SLEEP. After setting my cellular phone in its holder to be recharged overnight, I sleep for a few hours. While I sleep, I dream of more technological devices just waiting to be invented that will save (as well as waste) more of my precious time.

Although quite a bit of the technology used by teenagers today may not be deemed necessary or beneficial to our lives (Gameboys, blasting Discmans, celebrity websites, etc.), I'd argue they do provide us with certain necessary skills for the future. Whether they be problem solving skills gained through capturing the bad guy or learning to look up a graph illustrating the recent fluctuations of the NYSE, knowing which buttons to push will, in the future, prove to be an essential part of our daily lives. I don't suppose that we teenagers put much thought into it now, but I'm sure that someday we'll look back and be thankful for all that our constant reliance on modern technology has taught us.

Maya Hall is a student at an international school in Japan. Contact her c/o

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