Can we graduate from high school already?

MySpace shows how much we want and need to be judged and affirmed

Erin Adler

Very few twentysomethings admit wanting to go back to high school. After all, no one misses the insecurity, the fear of not being cool enough and the superficial relationships interrupted by the occasional backstabbing.

Or do they? College students, and others in their 20s, must have a secret nostalgia for their teenage years ‘ or they wouldn’t be on MySpace.com.

That’s because MySpace is really just a huge virtual high school populated by the same prototypes we all remember. The site reduces real people with actual interests and in-the-flesh friends to participants in an addictive, two-dimensional popularity contest. The whole thing is akin to collecting wallet-sized school pictures of your “friends” when you were 14 years old. Whether you aimed for quality or quantity, your popularity was determined by who appeared in that stack of photographs.

Well, those tangible photographs have become thumbnail-size pictures floating in cyberspace. MySpace might substitute the blue school-issued background for a bathroom scene with some cleavage, but the pictures still prove to the world the same thing that stack of photos did ‘ that who you are is all about whom you know combined with physical attractiveness. Above all, it’s about being cool enough.

My god, aren’t we past that?

Now, I know there are a lot of people who love MySpace. I’m sure there are people who have developed actual friendships based on reading and viewing profiles. After all, it’s not that different from online dating in the early stages of a relationship.

But that’s the problem ‘ the site never gets people past the surface-level details of personalities. All the people I know who’ve developed real-world friendships with their MySpace amigos did so because they took things beyond the computer screen and into the coffee shop, the bar or the workplace. They became real friends in spite of, not because of, MySpace.

MySpace does have some redeeming qualities. Blogging hardly can be called superficial, and the site has become a great way for new bands to network and gain exposure.

And one of the coolest things about the site is the opportunity it gives users to experiment with their identities. That, after all, is why adolescents ‘ especially younger ones who probably shouldn’t be on the site ‘ love it. It’s completely aligned with one of the major developmental tasks of adolescence ‘ discovering a sense of self unique from one’s parents. On MySpace.com a person can go from a biker chick to a schoolgirl, a metalhead to a hip-hop fan, simply by changing his or her profile.

It sure beats waiting for a new school year to unveil that new persona.

But the fact that adults, not teens, want to spend hours playing with their identities on such a level is worrisome at the very least. I can’t help wondering what fans of the site used to do with their time before they spent hours each night making “friends.” Are their actual friendships suffering?

Granted, I think it’s natural to be sucked in to the MySpace world for a while. In the honeymoon phase of MySpace, it’s easy and fun to spend lots of time “friending,” looking at pictures and e-mailing or chatting back and forth, just as you would page through a yearbook. But at some point it has to get old.

Doesn’t it?

Apparently not. The MySpace phenomenon gets bigger every day. But I hope people soon realize that a forum in which one’s self is defined by a mug shot and a few random quotes is not really “their space” at all ‘ it’s merely a place ruled by superficial judgments.

Erin Adler welcomes comments at [email protected]