Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Why can't we be virtual friends?

It's never fun dealing with Rupert Murdoch. He's probably the only person who can challenge Dick Cheney in the Douche of the Year contest (for which he is hereby nominated), and the chief reason why he might win is the size of his gargantuan and ever-growing sphere of influence, with which he's attempting to swallow reality whole. Perhaps the most surreptitious of these assaults is his MySpace empire, which he acquired in 2005. If you're 25 or younger, chances are you have a MySpace page, and are therefore subject to loud, flashing advertisements, a mountain of spam and fraudulent come-ons, and random encounters with strangers. There are other popular "social networking sites," most notably Facebook, but MySpace has remained the gold standard. There are plenty of older folks, like myself (OK, I'm 28, so I'm not that much older, but so it is) who have MySpace pages, too, and I believe most of them, like myself, lament the corporatized, audience-tailored replacement for the face-to-face encounter the site has in some way become.

Perhaps the most glaring and obvious example of MySpace- fueled societal decay can be encountered when someone you have never met decides to ask if you would like to become their friend. I've found that the most fruitful friendships I've had in life have begun organically, without a defined moment when strangers became acquaintances and acquaintances became friends. It never starts with a cloying "Will you be my friend?" query. But that's how it's done on MySpace. There are no acquaintances -- only friends and un-friends. You're either with somebody or against them, just as in Murdoch's black-and-white, maverick politics.

Your first duty upon receiving one of these requests is to find out whether it's a real person or a spam- spewing robot -- an easy determination in real life but a bit trickier on MySpace. The best way to find this out is by clicking the link to the potential friend's profile and examining their page for prominently displayed nude pictures of themselves, feverish promotion of their favorite consumer product, or a combination of the two. Another tell-tale sign are the person's friends and their comments -- on MySpace you are who you befriend -- which, if they are filled largely with male rednecks in their 30s who seem quite happy to have been added, are a sure indication that this is one request to ignore.

But then, therein lies a hard-to- resolve dilemma -- if you are actually engaged by a real human being and accept their request to become friends, what should your first words to them be? Common etiquette dictates that you comment on their page with a "thank you for the add," but as this has become widely used it has become even more distant and didactic in tone, leaving the friend requester to wonder if they have just committed the cardinal sin of inviting a spam robot to their page. A warmer approach can be made by including one of the vast multitude of graphics with "Thanks for the add" imprinted on them, usually along with a kitten and twinkling sparkles. These are perfect for teenage girls and particularly effeminate men, but, alas, no good for anyone else.

There is, as I have discovered, the witty approach. You can take the popular "Thanks for the add" phrase and have some fun with it, but the risk of misunderstanding is great. For instance, take this exchange of comments from a pair of MySpace pages:

Me, commenting on my new friend's page: Thanks for the a-d-d! Better go take my Ritalin!

My new friend, on my page: What?

Me: Oh, sorry. I was making a joke. I meant ADD, as in attention deficit disorder.

My new friend: I don't have ADD.

Me: I know you don't have ADD. I was just bringing it up because I was trying to say "thanks for the add," but noticed the word add is also the acronym for that syndrome. Just trying to switch things up a bit and lighten the mood.

My new friend: You really have got to be careful ... you shouldn't make fun of people with ADD.

Me: I never meant to make fun of anyone with ADD. I'm very sorry you took offense.

My new friend: You better be.

My guess is I won't be getting an Evite to any of that guy's holiday parties this year. Which is just as well, I suppose, since I probably wouldn't feel very comfortable and wouldn't be my usual jovial self at the affair, given our initial encounter. I suppose that would be the ultimate effect of MySpace -- to discourage one from seeking out face-to-face encounters, the kind of meet-up that lacks advertising space and very often entails conversations that are difficult to document for the purpose of government surveillance.

But hey, I just got some good news! A bunch of strangers named Beverlie, Daniel, Brianna, Sydney, Taylor, Trinity, Samantha and Darryl all want to be my friend! I hope none of them suffer from any attention-span related disorders.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

I feel ya on this one, too. Myspace and facebook drive me crazy. I had to quit.