Thursday, January 4, 2007

The Voyeurs Playground

Humans have the uncontrollable tendancy to be nosy. Our need to know everything going on around us is why we stare at car accidents. It's why we eavesdrop on people arguing in public, even as we're making a concerted effort to pretend we don't notice and not stare. It's why there's so much interest in the Saddam hanging video, despite the fact that deep down, no one truly wants to witness the business end of an execution, even if the intended target is a despot. We demand knowledge, even if subconsciously we know we're going to end up getting a good, long look at carnage we didn't really need to see.

This basic fact is what makes the whole MySpace phenomenon so interesting to me. For a certain age group, it's a great way to stay in touch with people you haven't seen in years, as well as catch up on your friends' debaucherous activities from last weekend. It also has an amazing practical use for artists around the world as a way to market their talents to audiences they might not reach otherwise. For a lot of people, though, it's a great way to air more information than you ever truly intended. From my teenage cousins who think it's funny to put up incredibly inappropriate pictures and quotes that I really hope they don't mean, to the random person I haven't seen since high school who makes rather rude comments about people in a public forum without considering the potential audience, the MySpace community lives their "online lives" like the guy in the car next to me - he's picking his nose like no one else can see him through his windows, and the rest of us are staring in wonder/amazement/absolute horror (pick one).

I got sucked into this whole MySpace business last Christmas. I went home for the holidays, and while catching up with a few of my favorite high school girlfriends over lunch, our conversation turned to the topic of "what everyone else was up to". I got more gossip in that 30 minute conversation than I had in the 6 years since I graduated from high school. Where did all of this come from? Surely they hadn't kept up with every single person whose name came up in that conversation. Of course not. They were all on MySpace. It apparently eliminated the need for the typical 3 day email binge with a friend to catch up with them about the last decade of their life - you can usually figure most of what's gone on in their lives just by reading the details of their profiles. I was completely intrigued, and rushed home to create my own fantastic MySpace profile. But that's not enough. You need friends. After all, how much fun is it to air your laundry if you don't have anyone to read it? So the quest began to find friends from high school, church camp, choir camp, college, semesters abroad, EVERYONE I've ever known. With pictures, no less! It was addictive, and I was hooked.

And then I started to notice some aspects of my new obsession that made me uncomfortable. I started hearing news reports about people losing jobs because of pictures they posted or comments they left on MySpace. And then came the pedophiles and perverts, which I assume is a given wherever online communities populated by young people with pictures exist. And then I started hearing the REALLY good stories. Like the one from one of my close friends who was in an undefined, romantic-ish relationship with a member of the armed forces stationed half a world away. The soldier started "acting strange", and they stopped communicating as frequently. He clearly wasn't in any grave danger because he logged on to MySpace daily. Then she found out about his girlfriend from a message posted on his page. Ouch. Talk about carnage.

I don't want the world knowing that much about me. I don't want people to be able to think they can guess what I've been up to based on how often I've been on a website, or who I've left public messages for and when. Privacy is a beautiful thing. A very wise friend of mine once said "The worst thing you could ever tell me is that I've become predictable". I've laughed to myself several times that the ex-boyfriends I'm most curious about are the ones who are smart enough not to leave an internet trail behind them. My favorite one is the guy I haven't spoken to in 3 years who I can't even find on Google. I think he might be on to something.

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