Identity in Network Culture: MySpace

What is the culture of MySpace? Youth culture in my town’s high school was dominated by the jocks and their rivals, the burnouts. The closer the burnouts were to jocks, preps, or worse their parents, the more miserable they felt about themselves. The further away from the mainstream, the greater their self-respect and higher their cred among fellow burnouts.

With MySpace, the jocks, burnouts, preps, and theatre geeks are all in the same space. For most teens, MySpace is simply a part of everyday life. I guess Rupert Murdoch would be Mister Vernon. They are there because their friends are there and they are there to hang out with those friends and get validated. Of course, its ubiquitousness does not mean that everyone thinks that it’s cool. Many young adults complain that the site is lame, noting that they have better things to do. Yet, even they have an account which they check regularly because it’s the only way to keep in touch with many peers. The millennial generation doesn’t email.

MySpacers are exploring constantly, commenting more than bloggers. They behave differently. It’s important to understand how and why.

I am among the breed of blogroll surfers – we like to get a feel for different writers’ voices and senses of humor. We thrive on reading more posts and more news about a story, we look for stories with the same tags, and follow the trackbacks to get different angles on the same story. I, for one do this because I love finding and informing a narrative. I’m a storyteller.

MySpacers are similarly voracious but not for news, not for information, but instead for character and validation. For things that strike them as cool/new/passionate/goofy. They flit around, meeting people, checking out interests, as if coming into your apartment to listen to your CDs, look at the books on your shelf, see the posters on your wall – and discern (from the images you used to adorn your MySpace page) how you perceive yourself.

They will check out your friends, read what people say about you. And even if they wouldn’t normally be your friend, if these visitors get the sense that you are a genuine person, fully-formed around one of the keys to authenticity for millennials (cool/new/passionate/goofy) they will add you as a ‘friend.’

The cultural currency on MySpace is the posting of comments. It is truly all important. Being approachable and engaging in conversation is paramount.

An essay on identity and MySpace that is being called seminal postulates that the reason so many teens are flocking to MySpace for community stems in part from the loss of the traditional “third places” for teens: the roller-rink, drag racing at the salt flats, drinking a quarter-keg in the woods, what have you. That many luddite, theocratic conservatives have gone all “Footloose” hoping to ban it, merely helps MySpace grow.

But youth will continue to work out identity issues, hang out and create spaces that are their own, regardless of what technologies are available.

What kind of things can MySpace provide those who understand character and voice? This local candidate gets it. He is highlighting his young son’s cool hobbies, he’s empowered his own kids’ character. The voice on his MySpace page is slightly different, more colloquial and the fonts are unconventional.

This improv comedy group in NYC just sold out a Broadway show at Caroline’s Comedy Club using MySpace to increase their fan base and turn them out. Key to both of these MySpaces is that they don’t look overly corporate slick – therefore they are more credible/believable.

So, if you know your audience, respect the conventions of the medium, and speak about the lifestyles you share – MySpace can be a goldmine. I hope conservatives stay afraid of MySpace. I fear they will soon lose the fear. Afterall, the U.S. Marine Corps is getting in on the action.

Thankfully, there have been more stories about predators on MySpace than actual cases. My hope is that this over-hyped bad press will scare away many Conservatives from investigating this network’s potential.

Similar anxieties of obsolescence kept conservatives from letting their children investigate social phenomenons such as reading novels, zippers, jazz, television, rock & roll, and now P2P networks. And thank god for that – for a while, liberals were the only ones listening to jazz, quickly dressing and chilling on MySpace.

MySpace just passed Yahoo! for the most pageviews per day in the country. 95 million people have set up accounts and built pages. 95,000,000. But the network’s size is not the important part.

Within 5 miles of where I’m sitting with this laptop, there are 1,977 twenty-nine year-old female voters with a graduate degree who self-identify as Democrats on Myspace. That’s crazy. It’s crazy MySpace lets me search with that much demographic specificity. Seriously.