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Not quite face to face

Online forums keep students in contact

Online forums keep students in contact

December 20, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

Contacting friends the old-fashioned way - picking up a telephone and dialing their numbers - is inconvenient for Tessa Vanhouten, a busy 20-year-old student.

Vanhouten keeps tabs on her out-of-state college friends by checking out their personal pages on Facebook.com, an online forum for high schools and universities.

"We have a girl who's at Yale, she never comes home, people in California, people you can't call because it's too expensive," Vanhouten said.

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For a growing number of 20-somethings like Vanhouten, "Keep in touch" means periodically checking a friend's Web site for updates. Ten public and private Washington County high schools, including North Hagerstown and South Hagerstown high schools, belong to the Facebook.com online network.

The technology is changing the way young people socialize, according to the Online Publishers Association (OPA).

According to a study the OPA released earlier this year, 18- to 24-year-olds spend at least two to five hours online daily - and that's not including e-mail, instant messaging and online chatting.

Blogs, online forums and instant messaging have been around for a while, but the technology wasn't always available to most. Now that it's easier to connect to the Internet, more people are taking advantage, media analysts say.

"It's a good way to get your thoughts out there," said 20-year-old online video game enthusiast and Hagerstown Community College student Jeff Weaver.

Weaver, a computer science major from Fairplay, doesn't have a blog and doesn't read other people's Web sites. He said he spends an hour each day playing video games online.

He meets up with gamers in online forums called "link shells." Some of them come from as far away as Japan, he said.

On a recent morning, Weaver played "Final Fantasy XI" on his laptop inside the Hagerstown Community College library.

"Final Fantasy" is an online role-playing series that enables thousands of people around the world to play as a team or against each other. The next version comes out in fall 2006.

Weaver said his generation has grown up in a world with Atari and Super Nintendo, entertainment systems that look archaic compared to what's available online today.

"I don't know who's got a working Nintendo anymore, but I'm sure I could find someone out there who has one and people who'd still be interested in playing it," Weaver said.

"You can still invite the person across the street to play, but this is just a new way of meeting people," Weaver said about online gaming.

Brian Knode, 18, of Hagerstown, goes by "B1GK" on his MySpace.com page, a personal Web site he created to keep up with friends.

Knode, a North Hagerstown High School graduate, said he's not afraid to meet people online.

"I could see why people would be," Knode said. "That's why you talk to them awhile to make sure they're not a freak."

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