MySpace Is, In Fact, Addictive

OPINION

By Terry Calhoun

Beware. What little free time you might have could easily get sucked up inside of MySpace. What else is new? Well, this is a first-hand report.

On February 14, 2006, I bit the bullet and subscribed to MySpace. I now have eleven friends! No, make that twelve. Even cooler, one of them has been dead since 2002. Really, I spoke with him in a hotel restaurant the night before he had his fatal stroke, yet he lives on in MySpace.

MySpace needs to grow up a little in order to be user friendly for Boomers. It’s understandable that much of its content and structure is aimed at younger people, but there is potential there for all ages. It needs, for example, to permit me to not display my Zodiac sign – it d'es this automatically when I give it my birth date, which is required. I sure wish I could toggle that nonsense off.

My dead MySpace friend is “Steady” Ed Headrick, the inventor of the modern Frisbee™ and the grandfather of the most popular little-known sport, disc golf. You might have seen the episode of Believe It Or Not where Ed’s widow poured his ashes into molten plastic so that they could be molded into a series of expensive flying discs. I own two. One is a putter with which I made 500 putts with no misses and then retired. The other is a driver, which has been on the wall in my office since I got it. “Steady” Ed has 467 MySpace friends.

Apparently it’s not uncommon for people to create identities in virtual communities on behalf of deceased loved ones, and there are even online communities devoted to memorializing people online. The possibilities of the deceased actively engaging in online communities with the living seem…well…infinite. But I digress. If you want to read more on this topic, check out “Textual Dreaming: Dis-Ease in the Interface” or check out the World Transhumanist Society. Those should keep you busy and away from MySpace for a while.

Signing up for MySpace was easy enough. It’s not apparent how much of the detailed information that you are asked to provide is actually required, but I learned that your birth date is mandatory (even though you can provide a fake one). MySpace then displays your Zodiac sign on your home page, which is driving me crazy! For some reason, it lets you toggle that off on your blog, but not your profile page.

Once you’ve provided those details, there is a depth and richness of what you can do to personalize your space that I have not fully plumbed. Every once in a while, though, you can bump up against the edges of things that MySpace d'es not want you to do. Mostly, it seems that these are techie infrastructure things to protect server storage space and security.

It would be easy to think that MySpace was waiting for me to come aboard before it cleaned up its act. MySpace did remove 200,000 profiles, but it’s really a convergence of interests. My interest is in finding more about the inside of MySpace and the public’s discovery of some of the previously-uncensored goings-on. To be frank, one of the first things I did on MySpace was wander around seeing what sorts of bad things I could find. There were lots. Some of the more obvious and blatant things, and probably most of what was removed, was from the younger MySpace folks who were lying about their ages and asking for trouble. They really are children, but they vehemently deny it! Rupert Murdoch and his folks were wise to delete those profiles.

Many, many MySpacers also post information way too personal to be publicly shared. Both my oldest daughter (22) and my youngest (17) have things on their MySpace that I sure wish they did not. My youngest sort of tries to hide from me that she has a MySpace account. My oldest, however, is a wonderful writer and her blogs (mostly) delight me. She really didn’t have to post this as the first message in my own MySpace, though: “Breaking news: MySpace officially became ‘uncool’ today when a twenty-something's dad sent her a friend request.” Her dad is a tiny bit worried that too many people might dig too deep into his blogs, but he is taking advantage of the social casualness of the space before it gets all structured.

I have also found some profiles that are intensely formatted – the visual equivalent of wearing too much perfume. Interestingly, there is a growing side-commerce of tools to elaborate your MySpace with. No doubt it is or will soon be possible to hire a “MySpace Coach” to help you make your MySpace really, really cool. One of the problems for adults right now may be in trying to make a MySpace profile that d'esn’t look adolescent. There are some good ones, but some awfully bad ones, too.

Opinions of that sort, and judgments like I just made, appear to be culturally biased. On the Association of Internet Researches list (air-l), of which I am a member, there has been an excellent discussion recently of “race” on MySpace, as well as discussions on “Christians against Myspace” and “Deceased People in MySpace.” It’s really a nice list.

Social researchers could and should be having a field day right now, before everyone gets more uptight and stops constructing their heart’s-desire-spaces and begin constructing spaces that reflect positively on them to potential employers and government agencies.

Still, we are probably at the point where we were about 10 years ago with Web homepages. Professional companies, and especially design organizations, are itching to have a presence on MySpace. Some do already, but how can they be present in a way that d'esn’t erode whatever their expensive “brand” is. Stay tuned.
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