Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Myspace is a Chevette

I've been a social networker since the waning days of Friendster's popularity, right about the time Myspace was becoming the site du jour. Myspace was newer, flashier, and had tons of cool bands. In short, it was less stodgy than it's older sibling. I was around thirty at the time and I remember feeling just a little old and out of place among the OMGs and lolz but not so old that I couldn't identify with both the concept and interface of the site. Myspace boomed shortly thereafter. Membership blossomed, features multiplied, and enticing spam ran rampant in the email inboxes of all users. Many a profile was pimped with the help of a variety of third party editors. My retinas will never fully recover from the abuse inflicted by animated gifs.

Rupert Murdoch laid his filthy mitts on the company at just about the time I noticed the first people jumping ship, canceling their accounts with only a goodbye in the bulletins. I have always been a casual user of all the sites so I didn't feel strongly enough about any of the problems with Myspace to warrant closing my account. The same holds true with Friendster for that matter. I still receive pitiful email reminders from that site even today. At any rate, I noticed another trend around this time involving the demographic attracted to Myspace. Early on, all of my "friends" were my age or younger, with emphasis on the latter. In what can only be described as Social Networking Schism 2.0, the friend invitations I began receiving were from high school classmates and their older siblings. I'm not talking about old pals, these were just random folks whom I passed in the halls or who lived down the street. Being too apathetic to deny their overture, I soon noticed a trend, a sub-trend if you will, in the way these interactions go down:

BaRelyNewUn1987 writes:

"hey_____, long time no see! i wondered whatever happened to you after high school. i'm married, live in my parents old house with blah, brag, blah, kids, pets... can't believe yer bald! you had crazy hair when you rode skateboards, remember? keep in touch!"

They always end with "keep in touch" but we never communicate again after the obligatory response from me. Our respective profile thumbnails just gather dust in the other's friends list, with no hope of a Top 30 showing, let alone a Top 8. I sometimes imagine my profile photo buried amongst those of hundreds of shitty bands, family members, coworkers, and one "nympho" who managed to convince someone that she was the real deal. This pictorial extension of myself lies dormant in hundreds of similar scenarios, one for every person on my friends list and a few dozen more scattered throughout search results and friend updates. If I'm really tired, or delirious from malaria, I even imagine the profile photos communicating in a sort of Walter Benjamin meets the Paintings in Harry Potter miracle.

My photo:
"I was a victim of my own apathy, I couldn't say no to the invitation. How'd you guys end up here?"

Shitty band photo (in unison):
"We send out a thousand invitations a day in hopes of getting a few dozen suckers to listen to our shitty, derivative music. Someone is bound to accept."

I recently began using Facebook after what seemed like a million email invitations from friends, students, and colleagues. My hesitance to join this incarnation of social networking evolution had nothing to do with a value judgement of any kind. I had grown bored with Myspace and after putting together two mediocre, non-pimped profiles for as many social networking sites, I didn't want to waste time with a third. There are many things I like about the clean Facebook interface and lack of ugly advertisements and flare that I won't go into here. Suffice to say, it seems like Facebook has really spent a lot of time building their interface based on usability and intuitive browsing. The site is a smooth running machine with few superfluous frills. There are not enough animated gifs but you can't have everything.

After several months of using Facebook, I had been paying less and less attention to my Myspace account. My visits were limited to accepting an ever-shrinking number of friend requests. Today I spent some time on Myspace, engaged in another wandering anthropological mission. Sometimes I eagerly study Juggaloes, sometimes I follow trails from one profile to another with the intent of discovering some great secret or truth about humanity, or at least a hilarious photograph. I ran across the profile of a thirty-eight year old man from my home state. He has one of the most unintentionally sad profiles I've ever seen. It is fully pimped with his favorite 1980's band blaring from his music player and a tiled background image of his favorite comic book character. The foreground is cluttered with every imaginable Myspace cliché: quiz results, animated gifs (yes!), slide shows, sexy women, action movie characters, and so forth. His friends list is FULL of nothing but hawt young thangs with names like Lindzee and Amanda. You know, the type who write "just moved to town and thought you were cute" in their invitation to you. In his VERY brief "About Me" he mentions that he is looking for "a nice women" and that he has a job. His equally brief "Who I'd Like to Meet" name drops the usual Angelina Jolie and fades into an awkward "lol" for punctuation. The saddest part is his picture section. Two pages are filled with low quality, self-captured images, probably of the web cam and cell phone variety. In his photos, he is always alone in his house in various poses and outfits, sometimes shirtless and sucking in his slight paunch. He's not a bad looking guy but it's obvious that he is trying too hard to look youthful and cool.

My time away from Myspace gave me enough distance to notice how dated the site looks compared to the elegance of Facebook. Myspace screams 2004. This is not just a design critique but really an overall feeling that the site is becoming a relic of another time. Although age weakens our ability to discern it, every so often we witness rifts, sometimes in fashion, sometimes in technology. If you are my age, you can remember 1985 fairly well. Now imagine someone wearing bellbottom jeans to school during that time. Even though bellbottoms had been in fashion less than a decade earlier, they were a total anachronism. Another example from my lifetime is the Chevrolet Chevette. This economical car was a mainstay of the 1980's. I'll bet half the kids in my high school drove those hatchback tin traps in 1989! Fast forward to 1996 and seeing a Chevette on the roads was like winning the lottery, albeit a really awful lottery. I think you get my point: Myspace is a Chevette.

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