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Originally published Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Need a life? Plenty of folks are willing to share theirs online

It's just before noon, and Jeni Searcy is sitting in her room, talking to a friend about driving to the Apple Store to buy a new iPod. A normal, fairly mundane...

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

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Extreme social networking

The number of minutes users spent on Facebook has increased from 1.7 billion in April 2008 to 13.9 billion in 2009.

Users spent 5 billion minutes on MySpace, 300 million on Twitter and 202.4 million on LinkedIn.

Source: Nielsen online report

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FORT WORTH, Texas — It's just before noon, and Jeni Searcy is sitting in her room, talking to a friend about driving to the Apple Store to buy a new iPod.

A normal, fairly mundane conversation, it's being watched by 58 people on the Internet.

"Well, I'm out of here," Searcy says into her webcam before shutting it off. "Y'all have a good day."

Searcy, 21, is a "lifestreamer" or a "lifecaster" — someone who broadcasts her daily doings over the Internet.

Whenever the mood strikes her, she turns on her webcam and streams live video of herself onto Justin.tv, a Web site where people can watch her every move. Searcy, who goes by "Jane" online, also continuously updates friends and fans through blogs, Twitter, Facebook and MySpace.

A college student and Starbucks barista, Searcy is an extreme social networker. She carries her phone, computer, webcam and camcorder everywhere.

"I haven't met a lot of people like me," she said.

But experts say social-networking junkies — people consumed with e-mailing, texting, tweeting, blogging, podcasting and videoing — are everywhere. They're college students, marketing professionals and journalists. They're attention-seeking extroverts and anxiety-ridden introverts. They're young; they're old.

And they're here to stay.

"It is a large group and growing," said Temple University psychologist Frank Farley, former president of the American Psychological Association and an expert in human behavior. "They literally exchange messages, in some cases, hundreds of times a day."

Consider: The number of minutes users spent on Facebook in the past year has increased more than 700 percent, from 1.7 billion in April 2008 to 13.9 billion in 2009, according to a Nielsen online report released last month. Users spent 5 billion minutes on MySpace, 300 million on Twitter and 202.4 million on LinkedIn.

"My grandmother is on Facebook," said Lauren Turner, 28, an interactive marketing manager at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce. "It is not just a stereotypical young thing anymore. It has broadened to all generations."

When Shama Kabani, of Frisco, Texas, was married last month, she considered tweeting as she walked down the aisle.

But then she thought better of it. (Not to mention, her phone mysteriously disappeared about an hour before the ceremony.)

For Kabani, 24, owner of Click to Client, a social-media consulting firm, using Twitter during her wedding probably wouldn't have surprised anyone, but even she has social-networking limits.

"He deserves better than that," Kabani said of her new husband.

On a normal day, Kabani estimates she spends six to seven hours on social-media networks. She has more than 17,000 followers on Twitter and so many friends on Facebook — 5,000 — that she can't add more. She also has an online TV show, Shama.Tv, in which she talks about social media.

"I had my first computer in the fourth grade, and I haven't looked back since," she said.

Farley characterizes people like Kabani as "digital natives."

"These are young people growing up inside of the digital world," Farley said. "People like me are digital immigrants. The younger generation, they live there."

Jonathan Alpert, a Manhattan-based psychotherapist and advice columnist, said using social networking to reconnect with old friends, make new friends, build a brand image, promote a business or market yourself is a positive thing.

"When it becomes a problem is when it interferes with other aspects of life, like relationships, finances or career," he said.

Alpert said social networking is popular in part because it appeals to people's ego and narcissistic tendencies. The constant feedback also drives people to continuously post seemingly meaningless aspects of their lives, such as what they ate for breakfast.

"Would they post such minutiae if they knew they weren't going to get a reply?" Alpert said.

Kabani predicted that, one day, we will walk into a grocery, scan a card containing various social networks and we will hear: "Your friend Cynthia bought tomatoes; would you like to add them to your cart?" she said. "The more global we get, the more connected we are able to stay to people."

Searcy said she is surprised that so many people are interested in her life.

Since she began lifecasting more than two years ago, she has had 1.8 million viewers to her channel.

"I have taken a couple of days off before and ... people started e-mailing me and asking, 'Are you OK? Are you sick?' " she said. "They get so used to seeing me every day."

Searcy said she started lifecasting after a friend told her about Justin.tv, a Web site founded by Justin Kan, who wore a video camera 24/7 and streamed continuous live video to viewers. The site now is a network of thousands of channels, where anyone can broadcast and watch live video.

"I was like, 'Hey, that looks pretty cool,' " Searcy said. "I have a webcam, so I just turned it on. I tried it the first day, and pretty much since that day, I have been broadcasting every day."

She has no plans to stop. For one, she said, lifecasting is fun.

"I don't know how it would tie into marriage and kids and stuff like that," she said. "But I'll do it as long as I can — until I get sick of it, I guess."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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