Teens turn away from e-mail

Teens turn away from e-mail


Mercury News

When she gets home from school, 14-year-old Jennica Paho of San Jose switches on the computer and goes to MySpace.com. “It’s very exciting to get new pictures, comments and new friend requests” on the social networking site, she said.

What she doesn’t do is check or send e-mail.

For those of you who have just figured out how to zap spam or manage your inbox, prepare for the bad news: E-mail is, like, so yesterday.

New statistics show that, for the first time, teen e-mail use is dropping — apparently in favor of more “instant” alternatives.

“It’s too complicated to send e-mail,” Jennica said. “I have to go in and type it, and send it, then wait for a reply.”

Ah. No wonder adults like Cindy Nelson of Palo Alto are frustrated. Nelson organizes a high school dance team, whose members all have e-mail. But “it really doesn’t work for communicating with the kids,” she said.

To relay urgent information like changes in performance times, she calls a parent — because teens like Jennica are too busy instant-messaging or commenting on MySpace. Or, if they’re like 60 percent of American teens, they have a cell phone and are calling or text-messaging on the mobile.

Like instant messages, text messages pop up immediately, and with a few deft strokes the receiver can reply right away. “E-mail is more like snail mail. You don’t know when they’re going to get it,” said Alex Stikeleather, 17, of Palo Alto.

Since February, teen e-mail use nationwide has been dropping compared with a year earlier. In April, it was down 8 percent — 11.8 million users compared with 12.8 million users in April 2005, according to comScore Media Metrix. Even though the average time spent online by teens increased 11.6 percent from April 2005, to 22.5 hours a month, time on Web mail declined 9 percent.

By contrast, general e-mail users are increasing, growing 6 percent in April over a year earlier.

Even instant messaging, while popular, is slowing, comScore’s surveys show. Total IM users increased only 1 percent, while the number of teen users declined 8 percent — in part, some experts say, because of the rise of MySpace, which allows users to send comments and messages to each other.

During the same period, MySpace users multiplied from 3 million to 7.8 million.

E-mail may not be dying, at least not yet, but teen Internet habits will continue to change the electronic landscape as they become adults. Younger employees instant-message while at work, said Michael Wood, vice-president of Teen Research Unlimited in Chicago.

“It’s an issue lots of employers are having to deal with,” he said. “The concept of always staying connected with their friends — they’re going to take that with them” as they grow older.

Of course, e-mail providers aren’t ignoring the trend. Yahoo, for instance, is testing Yahoo 360, a self-publishing service that allows users to blog, share photos and post music reviews, similar to what users can do on MySpace. “What’s important is giving people more ways to communicate,” Yahoo spokeswoman Meagan Busath said.

And communicating — with lots of people, even if it’s a “Hi, watsup?” — is what it is all about.

“The more friends you have, the more cool you are,” said Aston Carney, 11, of San Jose. He has accumulated 81 “friends” — people who can contact him online — in the month and a half since he started using MySpace.

Not that teens ignore e-mail totally. In Robert Wright’s math class at Morrill Middle School in San Jose, all but one of 31 seventh-graders last week said they had e-mail accounts, but several got them just to sign up for MySpace, which requires an e-mail address. Most don’t check e-mail more than once a week. It will be even less once school lets out and they don’t need to search for homework assignments, they said.

But text-messaging is likely to increase while school’s out. Gunn High School senior Haggai Dziesietnik, 18, said he sends and receives about 280 text messages a day, but in one three-day weekend at Tahoe he logged about 4,000.

Technology can really help one’s social life, students said. “If I see a girl I like, I can just message her,” said Aldrin Rijalde, 13, of San Jose. “You don’t have to get nervous. And you can think as long as you like.”

Of course, you can do that in a letter, too.

But it seems those traditional forms of communication are reserved for dealing with adults. Fatima Santos, 12, of San Jose, said: “It’s just too weird to communicate with your parents on MySpace.”

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