I’ve had a MySpace profile for a long time, but never really did anything with it.
At the time I registered, I remember thinking that MySpace felt like a lame Friendster knock-off. But as we all know, MySpace is now the Google of social networking, a billion dollar eye-magnet. The difference is, I like Google, and I kind of despise MySpace. Yet the reasons why I dislike it are largely why it’s been so successful.
Visit any random profile on MySpace, and you’re instantly beamed back to the Bad Old Days of web design, with flashing graphics, unreadable text and — worse — random songs that start playing unbidden. It’s not that the underlying template is ugly. It’s blah but inoffensive. The ugliness comes from how easily an individual user can modify it, cramming it with non-scrolling backgrounds and multiple video streams.
(The fact that MySpace can handle the load is testament to some serious hardware and deep pockets.)
Because most people have terrible design sense, most profiles look pretty terrible — but they look exactly how the user wants them to look. This element of self-expression is a large part of why teens and tweens and twentysomethings love their MySpace.
And that’s probably the crux of why I don’t like MySpace: I’m too damn old.
It pains me to admit that, because I’ve always prided myself on being able to understand the social culture of younger generations. I was never part of the rave/club scene, but I could appreciate it in a non-judgmental way. Hell, I wrote a movie about it. Similarly, I never felt the burning need to pierce anything or text message all my friends, but it was always clear to me why someone would think it was essential.
If I revert to the 15-year old version of myself, it’s easy to imagine why I’d love MySpace. In high school, I remember talking to friends on three-way calling for hours every night. Add typing and graphics, and these phone calls would become a sort of social video game: Popularity Pac-Man.
Or perhaps the better analogy is my other high school mainstay, Dungeons & Dragons. Just like you could equip your character with the perfect mace for smiting kobolds, on MySpace you can fine-tune the virtual you with better photos, better favorites, and better friends. You can try on new identities, and focus on different attributes.
Basically, you can keep rolling for 18’s.
Back in high school, my friend Jason’s dad would often wander in during a marathon D&D session and ask, “Who’s winning?” We’d roll our eyes and groan. He just didn’t get it: You play D&D, but you don’t win it.
While I understand MySpace on a technical, social and cultural level, part of me wonders — worries — if I haven’t already become Jason’s dad. I can appreciate MySpace, but I don’t love it.
Which means I really don’t get it at all.
And maybe that’s okay. There are a great many things in life which I don’t fundamentally “get,” yet wholeheartedly accept as valid: electromagnetism, quantum theory, the GDP, Adam Sandler comedies.
That’s why I still have my little beachfront. You’re welcome to visit. Just be careful not to trip over my ambivalence on the way in.
Update 2011: I killed nixed MySpace page several years ago.