Every night I’ve gone out this week, Myspace has come up in conversation. When I’m sitting with my intellectual friends I admit sheepishly to having a profile on said site. When yelling across the crowded bar with my clubbing friends, I proclaim my Myspace identity proudly. But what has become true in either circle is that Myspace is here. Whether or not it will be here to stay, I can only guess, and probably wrongly. I’ve never been good at predicting societal trends, despite having a degree in sociology. Go figure. People are still a mystery to me.
What I wanted to write about here, or perhaps confess, is why I respond so differently to these two groups of people regarding Myspace. As an intellectual I realize that Myspace is serving my networking needs while simultaneously reducing me to a set of socioeconomic facts and figures that it can sell to advertisers and the like. As an intellectual, I also realize that I am against this. That advertising is one of the major aberrations in our culture today. I won’t bust out the studies and documentaries we’ve all seen linking magazines to anorexia, or MTV with sexual behavior. If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past twenty years you’ve heard all of this stuff enough times to accept it as empirical fact in casual conversation.
But to this argument I have to say, when are we not bombarded with advertising? Most of the billboards I see each morning when I go jogging are in Spanish, and I’m not naive enough to believe that it is merely coincidence that I live in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood. I know that somewhere along the line the ethnic makeup of my zip code was uploaded into a database somewhere that was then accessed by the various agencies involved in marketing whatever products grace the billboards, newspaper inserts, magazine racks, etc. that I encounter on a daily walk through my own neighborhood.
Over time I’ve learned to become savvy to the tactics of advertisers. I recognize when my fears and desires are being appealed to. I like to think that most of the time I’ve developed a keen set of blinders to most advertisements. But a friend recently posted in his blog a different concern with Myspace — that of the Self, or more accurately, the self-obsessed. His concern is that Myspace and all its flashing lights and whistles is encouraging us to become egomaniacs, playing with our profiles endlessly, trying to outcool each other with the latest Myspace uploads, etc. Now this point becomes more valid. I’ll admit I’ve lost more than an hour or two doing not much of anything on Myspace.
Now comes the other argument, that the networking aspect of sites like Myspace has a great ability to help people connect to each other. After all, I have over a hundred friends on Myspace. Not that I’m bragging — some people have well over 22,000, like my friend Jesus Christ. That’s right, Jesus Christ is on Myspace. But I haven’t really become any closer to these 100 or so people. They still exist for me mainly on a two dimensional level. Perhaps my friend Jake Merriman is right and we are merely playing our lives like a video game, endlessly trying to score points (or friends), and avoid death (a deleted account, a dwindling hit count?), without actually experiencing life. I realized the other day that I hadn’t bothered to read the profiles of half of the people on my friends list. Bad Manon, bad!
However there are some benefits, too. What about those of us that are shy, or that have a harder time connecting in larger social situations? There are one or two friends I’ve made on Myspace that know me in real life, but never felt as comfortable talking to me in real life. For whatever reasons they were, as my friend Daniel Vaughn puts it, “lacking the social gene.” My other friend Abid Yahya says that it should be survival of the socially fittest, and that Myspace is simply offering these people an avenue to “cheat,” as it were, in the game of life. Maybe my friend Jake was onto to something with his whole video game analogy after all. But then again maybe I was also more receptive to these people in the realm of Myspace, where no one was standing next to me, watching the interaction happen. Maybe the true intimacy is in how we react to each other from behind the monitor when we’re each playing at the people we want to be, when we perhaps feel the most secure to be ourselves.
Then again, as my friend Abid reminded me, the New York Times lists the top ten web sites each week with the disclaimer that they don’t include pornographic sites, because the top ten would always be adult-oriented web sites. Abid also noted that the top ten sites are almost always dating sites. Which would lead me to believe that for all the networking and connecting that we are supposed to be doing through the Internet, we growing increasingly lonely, and more desperate for real connections to each other.