Hacking the mystery of MySpace

Posted: Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Imagine a greasy 37-year-old man, coming home to an empty apartment from his pathetic accounting job, where, after two years, everyone still thinks his name is Bob.

It's Barry. And Barry's sad excuse for a personal life is spiraling downhill. His balding girlfriend finally dumped his sorry butt, and he eats cold Mac 'n' Cheese for fun. Where does he turn? MySpace.com. He can be whoever he wants, do whatever he wants; invent a whole new life. Just a few clicks are all it will take.

This is often the worry that fills parents' heads when they imagine their child on MySpace. But even if teens aren't chatting with questionable people like Barry, they are nonetheless wasting their time on MySpace: It's still home to thousands of desperate teenagers who think they are awesome and popular, using their MySpace pages to impress random people, who they probably hate, that their generic lives aren't meaningless.

I myself don't have a MySpace, and I don't plan on ever getting one. Maybe not everyone on MySpace is a loser, but I am still not going to contribute to their unproductive poseur drama.

So what, you may ask, is the point of this Web site? It boasts the reputation of being the largest international blogging community with more than 100 million users worldwide. But who actually wants to read a blog about how you "dont hav 2 much to say" about yourself? Or on the contrary, every grease-soaked ingredient in that pizza you had for lunch?

Before MySpace, was "friend" ever a verb? Did you go up to strangers on the street and force them to listen to your ugly hate-metal music? Would you have "typedd liikeee thisss", if you didn't really have a stuttering problem? Would you post billboards of half-naked pictures of yourself, all over town? No. And yet some teens insist that they can't survive without it.

MySpace has certainly made a name for itself; more than half of these users are "addicted." But why do so many teenagers feel this "omg obsession!!"? MySpace keeps its users on a very short leash; some can't even go a few hours without updating their song, or signing on to see if a friend has changed his/her profile picture. Chances are, these users are attention-deprived kids who struggle making real friends.

But say MySpace users do have real friends; where has all the face-to-face time gone?

"It's kind of a chain reaction- once a few of my friends got one, I wanted one, and now we can all just talk online," says an eighth-grade MySpace user.

Throughout the news there have been stories of horrific online bullying. But after talking to middle school students about MySpace harassment, most of them deemed it a myth. Besides the occasional insult between peers, hacking from online sites is the most it comes down to.

"No full name, no phone number, no address - and you'll be fine," said another teen.

Most teenagers said they liked to use MySpace as a creative outlet, and express themselves with different songs, backgrounds, and fonts. But there are other ways to express yourself offline; encourage kids to get off the computer and take up something more productive. Contrary to what most adult Juneauites think: Teens don't need some fancy activity center. All kids need is the will to do something meaningful with their time.

• Katie Strehler is a student in Sarah Brooks' Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School writing workshop. From the Hallways is a monthly column showcasing the thoughts and opinions of students in Ali McKenna's Juneau-Douglas High School journalism class and Brooks' middle school writing workshop.

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