It’s 8 o’clock in the morning. I have just seen my kids off to school and now I am settled into my comfy chair with my morning coffee, cigarette, and laptop. I have just hit the enter key on my trusty Toshiba and am eagerly awaiting my Myspace home page to open. Will there be any new comments? Emails? Has anyone seen my profile and thought I was cool enough to send me a request to be their “friend”? My profile hits are up by 67 since I finally mustered up the restraint to click “sign out” for the final time last night at midnight, and my blog hits are up by 203. I am fascinated with Myspace on a number of levels. I have been accused of being a MySpace addict, though I’m not completely sure I understand what this means. If I am addicted, I know that I am not alone, the “I’m online” icon tells me that there are quite a few others on my friends list who might be suffering from the same addiction… but then I wonder… what exactly is it that we’re addicted to?
You would have to live in a media vacuum to have never heard about the Myspace phenomenon. The social networking site has sucked in about 118 million users since its launch in 2003. While co-founder, Tom Anderson, still remains the face of Myspace, in 2005 it was gobbled up by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, parent company of Fox Broadcasting. In the past year Myspace has become an advertiser’s wet dream, an instant, and somewhat captive, audience of 118 million in the target demographic of consumers; 18-30 somethings with plenty of leisure time and disposable income.
Myspace has been referred to as the virtual Metropolis of the Internet. It is a place of rich discourse and social interaction. For many of it’s users, Myspace is a place to go and socialize. Catch up with old friends, meet new ones. It is a community, a network neighborhood that is defined by ideas and personalities rather than geographic boundaries. My husband Dave crunches the numbers. In his blog he writes:
“My “network” consists of 140 million people, give or take some change. That number, given the nature of these social networks, is fluid. Successive refreshing of the page on which that information is held reveals just how fluid it is, as no two refreshes in a row contained an identical number – sometimes it rose a little, sometimes it fell a little, with the overall tendency toward rising. In a September, 2006 interview the founder of Myspace said it had some 104 million users, a number that was increasing by 230,000 per day. Like I said: crowded. If it were a country, it would be a populous (if resource and territory poor) one. Today, it would be the ninth most populous nation on the planet, just below Russia and Bangladesh. At the rate of increase boasted by Myspace, though, its citizens will outnumber those of Russia by Christmas, and those of Bangladesh shortly after the New Year. By next Christmas, its population will have surpassed both Pakistan’s and Brazil’s. One doubts that it can sustain this sort of growth, but the social power of such a “nation” – one which is comprised wholly of citizens by choice and not by accident of birth – seems potentially immense.”
Myspace has also been described as being highly addictive. Users have reported becoming obsessive with Myspace, sometimes investing more time and interest in their virtual relationships than in their real life ones. However, using the term ‘addiction’ implies that the activity is negative, or unproductive, or somehow detrimental; and I am not wholly convinced that what Myspace does for the user is detrimental. I decided to query some of my Myspace buddies about their use, to try and find the driving characteristics of their use.
There are many layers to Myspace, but they all start and end with the user; without the user, Myspace doesn’t exist. And without the existing user, new users are less likely to sign up. In fact, of the users I asked, most said that they were enticed by one or more of their family members or friends in real-life who were already avid users. ‘Corey’(21, Ohio) admits succumbing to external pressure: “Someone forced me into making an account. I wasn’t that interested before then, but she continually brought it up and eventually I gave in and made an account.” ‘Martyn’ (22, Manchester) was also brought into the fold by a zealous user, “I was pestered by a friend of mine who had to ask me 4 times before I caved in. I’ve never really forgiven them.” Even users from an atypical demographic for this site also indicated that they fell prey to Myspace peer pressure. “My daughter created my account for me – she thought I might find it interesting and that I might make friends here,” said ‘Jules’ (52, Australia).
It has been suggested by the sociologists and psychologists who have studied such things, that Internet-based communities, such as Myspace, are venues for social introverts, those who have trouble communicating in real-life. They turn to the virtual world in an effort to reach out to become members of a larger community without the social obligations involved in maintaining meaningful relationships, which often make them uncomfortable. “I think that as a complete social retard in real life, the facelessness of Myspace has an immensely appealing quality,” said ‘Dave’ (36, Halifax). To which, ‘Romy’ (30) of Ireland added, “I am quite introverted… and I do like the fearlessness of expressing myself distantly.”
However, Internet social networking guru, Barry Wellman from the University of Toronto, suggests that it is, perhaps the extroverts who make the best use of the Internet and online communities, providing them with just another venue in which to be extroverted. In his article Connecting Community: On- and Offline, Wellman states: “People who frequently use the Internet to contact others also tend to be in frequent contact with people in other ways (even after taking into account differences of age, gender and education). Extroverts especially benefit from its use, as they add another means of communication to their contact repertoire.”
In my experience, I know both introverts and extroverts who make good use of Myspace, and they all have their individual reasons for doing so. It is, perhaps, the extroverts who are more likely to get addicted to Myspace, or at least use it more excessively, seeking validation and acceptance of the being they so boldly put out there.
Personally, I am the extroverted type, and I do believe that I am addicted to Myspace. It has become part of my daily activity – it is the first thing I do when I wake up, how I spend my lunch hour at work, and how I spend most of my evening. But how does one classify addiction to an aspect of a technology that has become as much (or more) of a staple as cable TV to most? The term addiction implies that (over)use becomes so pervasive that it interferes with the daily activities of the user. In many ways, Myspace has merely become a replacement for those other non-productive activities that fill up your day. When I asked my friends what they would be doing if they weren’t on Myspace I get similar responses. ‘Romy’ says she’d “probably be watching TV or reading a book in bed”; Jay says “In terms of physical activity I probably would not be doing anything extraordinarily different: sitting, twitching, thinking”; and Pam (32, California) adds “I used to watch ALOT of TV… I mean a ridiculous amount of TV. It was sick. I have replaced that vapid, passive activity with this wonderful text based world.”There is somewhat of a paradox involved in defining the addiction when it has become such an important part of your daily routine. Perhaps it is not an addiction but just another one of those normal kinds of activities. Some believe their excessive use is merely another form of an overall addiction to the Internet. ‘Geoff’ explains “By definition, I think I’m only about as addicted to Myspace about as much as I’m addicted to CNN.com. Its just another stop on the internet morning routine.” ‘No.6’ (30, Halifax) agrees stating that he would be engaging in “other Internet behaviour, nothing substantial” if not on Myspace. ‘Jenny’ (32, California) lends me her dictionary to find a definition of addiction to work with. “On dictionary.com addiction is defined as: the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming, as narcotics, to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma…” she adds “Would it traumatize me to not be on myspace? It might have at one point, but being on here about a year now, with one profile deleted (by me), I have to say I am on low addiction mode right now. Myspace has certainly been a source of anxiety for me from time to time. It has also brought me much happiness during sad times. It has brought me closer to my sisters if you can believe it…I suppose like any addictive drug, there are benefits and drawbacks.”Some, like ‘Romy,’ are slightly concerned about their use, “I find that I’m not reading as much as I used to, or watching TV. It used to worry me but I think it’s alright; it’s an alternative to reading or TV with instant reaction. Sometimes it still worries me if I want to go on Myspace rather than playing with the kids or doing housework. I also stay up after I’m tired on it.” However she goes on to justify “But I also think it’s rewarding, and helps “real life” relationships as well as virtual ones.”
Employers may also have a few reasons to be concerned about Myspace interfering with productivity. Many of the people I asked indicated that work was their primary site of Myspace use. However it is undetermined if Myspace is actually taking time away from work or just used when work is “slow.” ‘ZumaJay’ (31, California) says that if he wasn’t on Myspace right now he’d be “bored out of my mind at work… it’s very slow here…” Libby (29, Northampton) indicates “Well, I’m on a lunch break at work so I’d probably be eating more food or reading the paper.”
Excessive use may mean addiction. So may pervasiveness into the so-called real world. But in considering this form of virtual crack I come back to the question why? Why do we do this? What exactly is it that we’re addicted to? Interaction? Communication? Information? Does it merely come down to an intrinsic value of reaffirming my self in a sea of 140,331,579 people? Does the number of people on our ‘friends’ list allow us to quantify our own popularity? Is it an ego boost from those people who think about you enough to comment on your photos or profile? Or is it merely just a manifestation of our increasing desire for voyeurism as it has been perpetuated by reality TV.
For self-proclaimed Myspace addict ‘Anna’ (44, California), voyeurism is a huge draw: “It is a huge people watching event. Like people watching at the mall, but cranked up because you get to see how people think about things; they are a little more exposed so to speak.” The anonymity of Myspace is a draw especially for those who simply enjoy observing interaction. ‘Sammy,’ a 29 year-old sociology student from Tennessee says, “I love to look at people. And I’m not much of a voyeur, but I don’t have to worry about people looking at me looking at them.” ‘Corey’ adds “I like coming on here and seeing what others have said or starting up new conversations/blog comments/etc…but also just having a little “space” where people can leave messages of a variety of sort while I’m out.”
For many, getting comments on their blog and profile generates the same feelings of surprise and fulfillment as getting little presents of recognition everyday. Checking for comments is one of the first things most people do upon logging on. ‘Sammy’ reiterates this notion “I like the bright red letters that tell me when I have “new messages.” I find that I get more email on Myspace than I do on my ‘real’ email… that’s exciting I guess.” ‘Michelle” (29, Edmonton) expands on this idea of recognition “I think it’s a way for people to feel important….like they have worthy things to say….and worthy things for people to read. and a way to get things off of their chest. Everyone loves logging in and finding comments/messages!!!” “Martyn” says Myspace addiction is all simply “Whoring. Physical whoring.”
I have a real life friend who refuses to interact via text-based communication. He is freaked out by the management aspect of it all; says that you lose all of those “real” moments… those times that are driven by passion and circumstance… those times when you don’t have time to think about what you say and just say it. He proposes that because of this, virtual relationships are not “real” but only shallow images of potential relationships because you never really know the intention behind the message. No physical cues, no solid way to measure the intimacy between friends. I understand his point, however, I don’t completely agree.
I daresay that I have made some solid and real relationships with people around there. Relationships that now exist outside the Myspace venue, albeit through other forms of Internet communication. But also, it has allowed me to form relationships with people in my own city that would otherwise not have been made. I find it so funny when I run into an old friend (or make a new one) and the question, “Are you on Myspace?” comes up. I am equally amused at my level of excitement when I find out that they are. However, there are real dangers of text-based communication when they are removed from a real-life context. Simple words, sentences, or paragraphs taken the wrong way; reading into things that aren’t really there and missing things that are. Sarcasm is one of the greatest casualties of text-based communication.
But I digress… Myspace provides an alternative venue for networking with others who share similar perspectives and interests. The more people you can identify with, the more normalizing of the experience of being you. This makes it particularly useful for those who feel alienated from mainstream culture. Likewise, Myspace is a powerful communication too and this is, indeed, the communication age. It facilitates the satisfaction of that incessant craving to interact and flirt and play. It’s not necessarily Myspace that we’re addicted to; this hooked up, turned on generation is addicted to communication to interaction and to validation…
Anyone who knows anything about addiction knows that most addiction occurs because the abuser uses the substance to escape or withdraw or just generally numb the pain of their existence. If Myspace is a drug, it is one that can alleviate the growing pain and symptoms of social alienation. Is Myspace addictive? Perhaps… but it is only addictive because of the external validation it provides and the emptiness it fills in the lives of its users.