Screening screen time

YOU havent met Mark Zuckerberg, Im sure. But hes trying to meet your children or grandchildren at their home/laptop computers. Hes the 23-year-old in the Hoodie sweatshirt and blue jeans on the cover of the New York Times Business section Friday.

Zuckerberg started Facebook, one of those Internet-based social operating systems that take up so much of young peoples time. Expansion plans aside, Facebook has 24 million members (up from 12 million in October); add that to his competitor, MySpace, which has 67 million members (some overlapping Im sure) and thats a lot of people playing life in their jammies in front of their computers at 2 in the morning.

Did I mention Zuckerberg was 23?

Now, theres nothing wrong with entrepreneurial youth. In fact, its the American way. But as an adult and a father of teenagers, its my job to question who they are taking in their cars and what they are doing on social networking Web sites. And to question the networking sites themselves.

Its a tall order for parents today, especially when most have never even heard of MySpace or Facebook and wouldnt know an avatar from an avalanche.

But computer literacy is important, but not the point of this column. I think its time to evaluate the pros and cons of the Internet, you know, the thing Al Gore invented, on our lives today. Some may say as a 49-year-old male, I am not qualified. Who am I to judge the social activities of young people on the Internet? What do I know about cell phone text messaging? Not much, Ill admit.

Still, for what its worth, here goes my Internet report card. Ill give a + for good impact, a for a bad impact and a / for neutral or a wash. Do tell me your own grades and comments via e-mail or by posting on my blog,

Impact on youth (-). From computer SIMS games to Facebook, MySpace, Instant Messaging, cell phone text messaging, Internet game playing, kids 12-24 are spending more time in front of computer screens. Social skills the real kind are faltering. At my house, after dinner, we retreat to our own computer screen each with DSL connections and play games, e-mail, or surf the Web. Having conversations with adults or even doing normal things like getting a summer job are huge tasks to todays computer literate teens.

A 2005 study by Kaiser Family Foundation found kids on average are spending more than six hours a day sitting in front of screens, whether they are on the computer, watching TV, playing video games or using other media. The good people at Kaiser Family said these numbers were up sharply from their last data set taken in 1999. Their conclusion: The large amount of time kids spend on computers sharing personal information on sites created by 23-year-old millionaires in the Silicon Valley (I added the part in italics) is something parents should take notice.

Impact on data access (+). As a 40-something at grad school getting my masters degree while working full time, having a proxy at my home computer for all data bases in all 23 Cal State University libraries was a godsend. It beat making copies out of research journals.

Entertainment/information (-). The Internet gave us streaming video where most Americans watch online movies of a Panda bear sneezing or car chases. And of course, it brought us junk e-mails, Viagra spam and pornography straight to our home. I miss getting letters in the mail from friends and going to the movies is still better than watching anything on a small screen. Need I say more about porn?

Reading/news delivery (/) Of course, the disruptions caused by the Internet to newspapers are well documented. Newspapers are losing readers, especially young ones, to the Internet. This started with television and then cable news. As a kid, I liked reading The Long Island Press in the afternoons with my dad. Then p.m. newspaper were slain by TV news, and now, newspapers in general are hurting. The good thing is, people can react to world news quicker now and that holds the promise of a more engaged, more informed public opinion. So far, that hasnt really happened in my humble opinion.

I could spend the holiday weekend buying virtual land on a new site called, where you create a 3-D avatar version of yourself and use a virtual mapping technology to see and seize land.Or, I could feel the real sunshine on my face, the real dirt beneath my hiking boots and trek up one of my favorite trails in Marshall Canyon in La Verne.
Guess which one I will choose?

Park Headed For Extinction?

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MEMBERS of Friends of La Laguna ( flagged down passers-by at the city of San Gabriels recent birthday festival. It was part of their continuing effort to raise about $500,000 to save a historic portion of a city park.

They were told by City Hall that if you want to save whats known as Monster Park, aka Dinosaur Park, a childs playground made up of 14 cement sea sculptures, you need to raise all the money. Youre on your own.

San Gabriel residents Eloy Zarate and his wife, Senya Lubisich, jumped at the challenge. They formed a nonprofit organization and almost immediately got a $70,000 grant from Annenberg Foundation and are approaching $110,000 in total donations, Lubisich said. They started last fall and, despite the obstacles, are not about to stop now.We are here until we do this. We cant back out, declared Zarate.

Involved citizens. A community rallying to save a historic city resource. Private money flowing in. It all sounds good. But theres something wrong with this picture. The city is not in it.
Why does it take private residents to see the beauty in art, especially as unique an installation as La Laguna, the last work of Mexican artist Benjamin Dominguez?

Why do cities, especially San Gabriel, the oldest in the San Gabriel Valley, struggle so much with saving historic structures?Zarate says he understands the citys plight. They are so desperate for dollars, any dollars, that they will do anything. It is a post-Proposition 13 world, where cities get most of their funding from sales tax revenues, not property tax.

Hence, the city was hoping to get grants for park improvements, and the collection of cement sea sculptures in a 19,000 square-foot corner of Vincent Lugo Park was seen as in the way.But like so many other cases of historic preservation, from oak trees in Monrovia, to old Craftsman homes in Pasadena and Covina, to grove houses in the once-agricultural expanse of Glendora, the public sees it differently and time and again votes for preservation.

Today, the public often sees the value in uniqueness, in designs that no longer exist, in what once was and still is part of what makes their town special.

Zarate, who teaches history at Pasadena City College, said the parks movements in the 50s and 60s and before that were used to distinguish one city from the next town of repetitive roofs and tilt-up strip malls.Lincoln Park. MacArthur Park. These are places people feel are cultural, special to their communities, he said.

Dominguez imagined sea serpents, light houses, a sinking ship, an octopus and then sculpted them out of cement. He did not work from blueprints. The color was mixed into the concrete, not painted on, another unique feature. The University of Mexico-trained artist and father of 13 children gave the La Laguna to San Gabriel in 1965, where it became part of the memory-scape of thousands of residents and Southern Californians who played on them as children and now bring their own kids to the park.

Other works of Dominguez are scattered: in Legg Lake at Whittier Narrows Recreation Area; in Garden Grove and in El Paso, Texas. Others in Montebello, Beverly Hills and Las Vegas have been demolished.

Restoring these playground sculptures will take money and painstaking effort. Zarate hopes to soon have art historians devise a restoration plan that will breathe new life into the chipped and faded artworks yet continue their original purpose: as an imaginative playground for young children.

But this is more than just art preservation. It is nostalgic, but it also plays a function, Zarate said. He gets e-mails from former Little League players who after a loss on the adjacent ball field, would play on La Laguna.

Did you know that Head Start and other preschools use this as their field trip?It is a resource, not just for the neighborhood but for people from surrounding communities that use this place, he said.

New things might be easier and cheaper to do, but to keep historic resources is expensive, he said. It is a different mind-set.

To contact Friends of La Laguna, go to their Web site at