Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tech-Hip Teens Tell '007S' '121' Beeper Culture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Tech-Hip Teens Tell '007S' '121' Beeper Culture

Article excerpt

The tiny box clipped to the teenage girl's pants begins to chime. Jeannette Soto smiles at the digital display's three numbers: 45-56-88. Translation: Good night. Sweet dreams. Hugs and kisses.

The message, from her fellow high schooler Christine, contains a precious missive from one best friend to another. It also holds the key to the youth culture spawned by today's techy revolution.

At first, beepers were used by doctors, stockbrokers, even drug dealers. Then busy parents began using them to keep up with the family. Now they've become a staple with teenagers, the tech generation's response to something common to all kids - a passionate need to talk to one another. Today's grownups might have passed notes and whispered in class. Modern kids spend hours in online chat rooms, at fast-food restaurants - and using beepers. While some adults are suspicious of the noisy plastic boxes, others see them as creative tools. With beepers "kids create their own music, their own poetry, their own styles of being human beings," says Myron Orleans, a sociology professor at California State University-Fullerton who studies technology's impact on children. In digital slang, 423 means "Call me now;" 00100 means "I feel very alone;" 007 means "I have a secret." In beeper code, 1040 means "You owe me big time;" 121 means "I need to talk to you alone;" 50-50 means "It doesn't matter to me. What you do want to do?" Since 1992, the use of pagers has doubled in the US. Forty million Americans own a pager today and 60 million are expected to have one by 2002, according to a survey by the biggest pager manufacturer, Motorola. Today 14 percent of teenagers own a beeper, compared with 7 percent two years ago. "The one thing a teenager doesn't want is to be by himself," says Ayo Harrington, president of the New York City Parents Association whose own teenager carries a beeper. In schools across the nation, beepers are officially banned, along with cellular phones and weapons. But officials concede cracking down on beepers isn't easy. Imagine getting rid of every beeper at Braddock Senior High in Miami, America's second-largest school, with 5,000 kids. "You're not talking about 10 beepers. You're talking about 2,000 beepers," says Assistant Principal Larene Lantz. She assumes that students have pagers, but adds that most set theirs on vibrate mode, so as not to disturb classes. "It becomes a matter of 'We don't want to hear it.' " Sleeping with a beeper Try telling Maria Velez she needs to surrender her beepers. She will laugh. "It's like your earrings, you never take it off," says the 16 year old. It's Friday afternoon in a small park near Lincoln Road, Miami Beach's trendy neighborhood. The talk among Maria's friends, who all go to Miami Beach High School, is about the evening's plans. …

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