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Published April 22. 2010 05:00PM

Our digital world of communication carries many life-changing advantages, not the least of which is aiding in split-second emergency situations

But, as with any other tool that positively affects society, there can also be a downside. One example can be found in our schools. In the past, students had little choice but to sit quietly during what they determined to be boring speakers. Today, those speakers can become easy targets of an instant messaging attack by their restless young audience members.

At an Oregon high school earlier this month, Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor, was sharing his dramatic life story during a school program. In one part, he reflected that as a youth growing up near Krakow, Poland, he had such reverence for education that he would doff his cap whenever he passed a teacher in the street.

Unfortunately, Wiener found none of that kind of respect in his teenage audience of 700 students. During the presentation, some students sought to escape what they considered to be a boring message by rudely using their cell phones and texting during the program.

Embarrassed by the conduct of his student body, the high school principal issued a new policy by confiscating iPods and cell phones used in school. He explained that he wanted students to understand the concept of respect before graduating.

Cell phone usage is addictive with many young people of this generation and texting is now the main communication tool of teenagers. A recent poll showed that four out of five teens sleep with their cell phone or have it near their bed.

While adults text an average of about 10 times a day, many teens are sending messages at more than 10 times that rate. One girl we saw in a recent interview was averaging about 4,000 texts a month, and had developed carpal tunnel syndrome.

What worries many parents and behavioral experts is that the young people who admit to texting a hundred times a day are not developing their proper writing or verbal skills by communicating face-to-face with their friends. Teens will soon find good verbal skills a valuable asset when they explore the job market.

Those young people who do not appear addicted to Facebook or send text messages or Twitter in our society may appear to be in the minority. But one writer correctly assessed that the self-imposed texting addicts are really the ones who are have become "disconnected ... from real society."

Rather, he sees a "generational divide" that has led to different "definitions of 'socialize' and 'engage.'"In his opinion, today's generation of habitual texters and Facebook users could lose the ability "to look up, and look around, at the incredibly beautiful and moving things happening all around us."

The technological freedom we all enjoy and see around us can also be a beautiful thing ... when used properly. They may not have been booing or heckling, but those students who were texting during the Holocaust survivor's talk were just as disruptive and insulting to the speaker as well as to those who were trying to listen.

That kind of disrespect is just one example of how not to act with the communication tools that have become such a visible part of all our lives.

By Jim Zbick

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