Sunday, August 19, 2007


So I closed my MySpace account last week, after checking out Facebook and finding that most of my out-of-town friends were actually on Facebook. The primary reason I'd joined MySpace was the premise of a single source by which to keep in touch with friends in different cities - those that I can't otherwise catch up with on a regular basis. But after about a year, most of the friends leaving me comments and questions were the same ones I was with the night before. I'd read enough about the demographic profile of MySpace vs. Facebook members (surge in 28+ yr-old members on Facebook, more educated/professional on Facebook), increased privacy considerations, etc. to decide that it was likelier the more relevant utility for me. I was right - most of my out-of-town friends are on Facebook.

There are, of course, secondary, much less lofty or openly-discussed benefits to having your profile on a social network. The initial novelty of procrastinating and killing time by finding and adding your friends and acquaintances' profiles to your own "friends" list. Reading about what they have been doing - and viewing the photographic evidence thereof. Seeing who someone you're curious about hangs out with, what spot he or she might frequent on an average Thursday night, who they photograph themselves with (requisite self portrait with dramatic, pouty expression and bangs/hair in eyes), or how many grammatical errors and misspellings have littered their profile. It can offer you a voyeuristic view into someone's life and lead you to develop a very limited assessment of their personality - in some instances without actually getting to know them in the offline world.

Like (but easier than) MySpace, Facebook users and marketers have developed a multitude of applications by which to personalize your content and reflect your personal interests and tastes to your viewing public. A Wall for comments (ala MySpace's comments box) lets you leave and receive comments from those who you haven't seen since last night or since last year. SuperPoke allows for digital high-fiving, poking, or throwing a sheep at your friends or crushes, while iLike allows you to dedicate and send a song to someone for any given reason.

The process of familiarizing yourself with a social utility and personalizing your profile can become quite a time-consuming, self-introspective and anxiety-producing venture. What does giving "Titanic" a 2.5-star rating say about you? Does adding "Wonderwall" to your profile date your musical tastes and imply that you haven't quite expanded your musical repertoire beyond 90's alt rock? What about the fact that after your 5th day on Facebook, you've added 20 friends to your profile, while your former cube neighbor currently has 83? Will anyone care about you enough to send an iconic "gift", or throw a sheep at you? And will noting your political bent turn off prospective employers or dates researching you online?

I can't say I wasn't forewarned. The title is quite accurate: Friendster, Hi5, MySpace or Facebook alike - they're all SOCIAL utilities. They can make it easier to keep in touch with someone when the timezone differences or setting render a phone conversation inconvenient, when e-mail is too infrequently checked, when a text message requires too many key strokes or when a face-to-face conversation is otherwise not possible. But if your offline social endeavors even occassionally create some insecurity or social anxiety (Friend or frenemy? Is he dating her? How can I start a conversation if I run into him? Is my entourage socially crippling in expanding my range of acquaintances?) - a social network has the propensity to generate the same feelings and reactions that you derive from your friendships and interactions offline. What can I say - you can take the 28+, highly educated and upwardly mobile set out of high school - but you can't always take the high school out of them.