It’s a wired world
Technology today is more than just computers in homes and classrooms; it’s sophisticated electronics in purses and pockets. Today’s kids are more connected, with each other and the rest of the world, than any generation that’s come before. Local youths are no exception.
For instance, kids without cell phones are the exception these days. A generation of young people between about 12- and 25-years-old is consuming new wireless products at a remarkable rate. The high-tech models many school kids are packing around with them are for more than just talking.
A fairly new model of phone that is gaining popularity is no bigger than a cassette tape box – remember those?. That little piece of technology will download music from the internet and can store a dozen CDs’ worth of tunes on a disk perhaps a quarter the size of a business card.
Other models – not much bigger than a 15-stick pack of gum – offer built-in cameras that will snap photos, then wirelessly e-mail pictures to other phones or home computers. Technology now being used in Europe and Japan, but not yet widespread in America, enables users to purchase goods and services with their phones, with the charges showing up on the monthly wireless bill.
No more “notes’
While the latest phones carry some incredible gizmos, kids seem most fond of a fairly simple service: text messaging, in which users can send written messages between phones.
TV commercials for wireless phone service have been touting text messaging for some time now. It’s youngsters who have picked up the trend.
“I still don’t understand why you wouldn’t just call somebody instead of text messaging them, but that’s what kids do,” said Dick Lindow, the technology coach at Eagle Valley High School.
The answer is stealth. Text messaging is a way to communicate without talking. The Eagle County School District’s cell-phone policy requires phones to be either off, or have the ringers turned off when students are in class. When phones ring during classes, they’re taken away for the rest of the period.
With phones set to vibrate rather than ring, text messaging has taken note-passing into a new realm.
“I know kids who sit though whole classes messaging each other,” said Eagle Valley junior Lewis Mirelez. While newer, more expensive phones have full keyboards, a lot of people send messages to each other with their standard phone keypads.
“I know kids who can do a message in 30 seconds,” he said.
Mirelez acknowledged that messaging in class carries some risk.
“You’ll get in trouble if you get caught,” he said. Still, like past generations of students who risked passing notes, kids are willing to take the chance.
Aside from the fun factor, Mirelez noted that putting cell phones in the hands of virtually every kid in school has its advantages.
“If you’re out with friends, it’s a good way to call and tell your parents you’ll be late,” said Mirelez. “You don’t have to give your parents a number for your friend’s parents; there’s one number to catch me.”
Or, as Lindow’s wife, Helen, characterizes such communications, “You’re not calling a place, you’re calling a person.”
In many cases, kids and parents are connected over fairly long distances. Anita Denboske, owner of Active Communications, noted her son, Josh, a freshman at the University of Colorado, still has his phone on the family’s plan, which makes back-and-forth calling from Boulder to Gypsum a local call.
“It really keeps us in touch,” Anita Denboske said.
The tech revolution involves more than high-tech note-passing. Mirelez, who also works at Active, uses his phone to download music and other information from the internet.
Beyond the wireless world, “The library and computer labs are busy every period,” said Lindow.
In addition to homework and research, several Eagle Valley students are participating in “Nova Net” courses, classes based on a server system in Illinois. The system allows students to take core-curriculum classes in math, English and social studies at their own pace, on their own schedule.
Some students use the system to get ahead in order to graduate early. More commonly, though, kids use the system to catch up, or to make up credits from classes they may have missed or failed at school.
“The main goal is to make up lost credit so they can still graduate on time. It’s a neat use of technology,” said Lindow.
The attraction of the Nova Net technology is it allows students to take courses at their own pace. Missing a lecture isn’t an issue, because the system allows students to pick up their coursework where they left it. The technology fits the need of “alternative” students.
Lindow’s computer lab is also home base for the tech coach’s “consultants,” a handful of young, self-taught techies who troubleshoot around the school.
Sophomore Walt Valdez has been around computers his entire life. Unlike many of his peers, who just expect computers to work, Valdez quickly started exploring the machines.
Eager to learn about how software and games actually worked, Valdez started digging into the manuals, teaching himself programming language.
Lindow’s other trouble-shooters – Brian Gonzalez, Andrew Pietrack and Cody Birk – also taught themselves how to dig beyond what’s on a desktop into how computers actually work.
“That’s what amazes me: they’re self-taught,” said Lindow, who freely admits his tech crew makes his job much easier.
Pietrack said his interest in how computers was sparked when he learned typing worked better for him than handwriting. In fact, he added, computers have made most of school easier.
“Instead of going to the library, I’ll use the internet for research from home,” said Pietrack. “It really makes things easy.”
While kids still tote packs full of books from school to home and back, Lindow predicted those days may be numbered.
Lindow said students often e-mail assignments to themselves at home, then e-mail the work back to school.
“The heavy backpacks are causing injuries to kids. This is a way to cut down on those,” he said.
In addition, the more kids use the available technology in high school, the better prepared they are for college, said Lindow. Some colleges issue laptop computers to incoming freshmen these days, and others only accept assignments electronically.
With the advances in higher education, Lindow said the high school actually needs more computers for students to use.
“We’re up about 80 kids in enrollment this year over last,” said Lindow. “We’re moving in the right direction. We just have to make sure we keep up.”
This story first appeared in the Eagle Valley Enterprise.