Thirteen-year-old singer Brittney Cleary wanted to debut with a song most kids her age could relate to. So she picked a tune about love, right? Wrong.
Her song is called ``I.M. Me,'' a reference to instant messaging, the online technology that allows computer users to carry on typewritten, private conversations in real time. Cleary, who lives in Nashville, Tenn., says she and her buddies talk online about ``everything.''
``Who my friends are mad at, who I'm mad at, about homework _ and what I had for dinner,'' she jokes. They're not alone. A new survey indicates millions of American teens use instant messaging.
After her dad, Mike, and a few others wrote the song, Cleary says she feared people would think it was ``corny.'' Its lyrics include references to common terms that kids and others often type during online chats _ from BRB (``be right back'') and G2G (``got to go'') to LOL (``lots of laughs'' or ``laughing out loud'').
But already released on the Internet _ and slated to hit music stores sometime in the next six weeks _ the song has won mostly rave reviews from youngsters who've downloaded it.
``I think it's the bomb!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'' wrote one of many who've left messages at Cleary's Web site. Another thought those who don't know how to instant message wouldn't get it.
``I think if she sang about boyz and things, then she would interest a lot more people,'' the writer suggested.
But 12-year-old Ellie Williams says an ever increasing number of kids her age will know exactly what the ``I.M. Me'' song means.
She's probably right. A soon-to-be released study done by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that 17 million Americans, ages 12 to 17 _ or 73 percent of that population _ have Internet access. And nearly three-quarters of those who are online say they use instant messaging.
By comparison, another Pew survey earlier this year found that only 44 percent of adults have tried instant messaging.
``I guess you have a lot more to talk about when you're younger,'' says Williams, a Clarksville, Md., resident, who sometimes has spent three hours a night messaging her friends online.
That goes for 12-year-old Alex Bowling, too. In fact, initial attempts to reach him at his home in Abbottstown, Pa., were met with busy signals because he was online.
Bowling says he talks a lot to his best friend, Cody.
``You know, about what we're doing and stuff,'' says Bowling, who also likes the fact that his cousin's 14-year-old girlfriends, who don't normally give him the time of day, will talk to him online.
David Silver, director of the Resource Center for Cyberculture Studies at the University of Washington, likens abbreviated instant messaging talk to slang derived from hip-hop music.
``In some ways, it's very clever,'' Silver says. ``Like other forms of slang, it allows youth to talk amongst themselves without adults really understanding what they're saying.''
Consider, for example, the online term POS: ``parent over shoulder.''
Silver jokingly calls Cleary's song ``the fall of Western civilization.''
But he adds, ``Actually, I'm kind of wondering why it took so long. It really does reflect the rapid mainstreaming of cyberculture into American culture _ and especially youth culture.''
The whole youth tech trend has some worried parents buzzing about it, says Liz Williams, who is Ellie's mom.
She says she and her husband had to cut back Ellie's online time when her grades slipped.
``She got out of control and finally we said, 'No computer Monday through Friday. You're done. You're out. Game's over,''' she says.
Even Cleary's dad is amazed at the amount of time his singer-daughter spends online.
He's working on a deal to promote her song with America Online, which has been an instant messaging leader for years, although companies such as Yahoo! and Microsoft are quickly gaining ground.
But he says even when he told Brittney he had booked a photo shoot with a popular teen magazine, she hardly paid any mind.
``OK, that's fine dad,'' she said. ``Can I get online?''