MySpace is Not Just My Space
While at brunch with some friends yesterday at Rush Street in Culver City, I glanced over at my phone as it lit up for a second. A couple of key clicks later, I discovered that someone had just sent me a message on Facebook. I stowed the message for later and began to muse on the website for a bit as the group devoured a basket of truffle fries.
As hard as I try, I can never really recall what life was life before social networking sites. In the back of my mind, I know that those days must have existed, as the Internet wasn’t even around when I was born, but a solid understanding of that time will forever elude me. The teen culture of the early 1990’s grew up intertwined with the developing technologies of pagers (how antiquated!), mobile phones, and online communications. Now, the same types of advancements are allowing current young people to interact in ways that I wouldn’t even have thought of when I was in high school.
I will be the first to say that some of these ways are innovative and astounding. Sure, not everybody might care about the Twitter saying that you’re first in line at the latest Sci-Fi Convention, but the idea that you could simultaneously tell everybody who did care amazes me; the way in which these social networking sites facilitate the ease of disseminating information to people impresses me.
But, as any teen can probably attest to, the Internet is not all good. Various iterations of the evils of the Internet have been ingrained into the public consciousness with the trailer for an upcoming movie even referring to MySpace as the new “booty call.” Indeed, it seems like MySpace is a place for friends…with benefits. We have all heard the horror stories about cyberstalkers and pedophiles, but there are researchers like Dr. Megan Moreno who are attempting to discover a way to use this new technology to help, instead of scare, individuals.
Essentially, Dr. Moreno contacted at-risk young people though MySpace with some information about the possible repercussions of profiles that included references to unsafe sexual practices or drug (yes, I include alcohol in that category as well) use. The details, which are fascinating and can be found in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, say that online communities like MySpace might present a new forum for public health education—exciting news all around.
I am hopeful that studies such as these might encourage more of a dialogue between the teens and parents about the use of social networking sites. In the past, discussions about online profiles have often gone in the wrong direction due to misplaced or misdirected fear: parents want to protect their children from the evildoers of the world, clamping down too hard on their kids while young people do not disclose information to their parents due to fear of reprisal. I can see how it is difficult as a parent to understand what your child is up to online (especially if you didn’t grow up in an environment that constantly featured the same technology!) but I think that parents still have to make an effort to learn. The unfamiliar is inherently scary, but how can you talk to young people without knowing what you are talking about? Children are resourceful and will find ways around the obstacles that you place in their paths; authoritarian behavior does not seem to be the answer. For me, what is more important is teaching children how to make smart choices, explaining why their actions might be troublesome, and then stepping back a bit. By taking the time to discuss this issue, online spaces can provide an arena for young people to interact with others and to begin the process of figuring out who they are and how they relate to the rest of the world.