Over lunch yesterday, I questioned my almost-sixteen-year-old niece about MySpace and Facebook and other related issues.
L is very much an upwardly mobile child of the new generation. She is an almost heartbreakingly beautiful waif with huge blue eyes and long brown curls. She was wearing a tee shirt and tiny denim skirt that was only slightly wider than the belt around her small waist. Although she was too polite to look at her phone during lunch, she spent her time in the backseat of the Lexus SUV texting her friends on her cell phone.
She had just returned from a week at a resort hotel in California's OC with her parents and her best friend.
Next week she'll be flying down to Texas A&M University. She'll attend a week-long summer camp on CSI-type forensics and then will fly to Corpus Christi's beaches where A&M is holding a second summer camp.
She's been attending A&M's summer camps since she was thirteen. She attended one last year focussed on law and legal issues. She visited courtrooms and took day-long classes on what it means to be a lawyer. The year before, she attended a camp on what it's like to be a veterinarian. She watched vets operating on animals and worked in A&M's labs with study subjects.
The same teens fly in every year for the A&M camps, and she's formed friendships among these kids over the last three years.
In August, she'll head for Florida to visit my mother and her cousins.
My first question was whether she'd bought the new iPhone. She rolled her eyes and said, "Only the nerds are buying that phone."
Over lunch at the Cheesecake Factory, I asked her about MySpace and Facebook. She said she had friends on both, although the majority of her friends preferred MySpace.
I asked why. She said that you could do more on MySpace than on Facebook. In her opinion, the kids who like to post photos tend to join Facebook.
As we drove from the restaurant to the Dallas Music Hall, I watched her fingers fly across the keys of her cell phone as she texted her friends. I asked her why she preferred texting to talking to her friends over the phone. She looked up at me, thought a second and said, "Because texting gives you a minute to think about your answer. With texting, you can be funnier and smarter than in a conversation because you have more time to answer."
I probed further and she said, "With texting, you can choose whether or not to answer right away. Sometimes I don't want to answer a message, and I can wait a couple of hours and then just say, 'Oh, sorry. I was busy and didn't get to your message'."
I found this insight into the mind of a teenager very interesting. It reminded me of my grandmother bemoaning the fact that my generation didn't write letters. She believed that relationships in her time were more intimate and more "genteel" because people wrote letters. Now my grandmother's great grandchild is describing a twenty-first century version of the same concept.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.