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, stevescaz.blogspot.com.
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 secondlife.com, 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?