Even more MySpace stuff (and this will probably be it for a while on that….)

I don’t want to obsess or dwell on the whole MySpace thing, but we were talking about blog issues in my grad class Monday, so it seems like a good time to post about some of the things we talked about in class.

MySpace controversies have become local, as is evident in this and this Detroit Free Press articles. To quote from the first one:

A presentation by two Lakeview High School students trying to warn classmates about the dangers of putting personal information on the Internet led to their teacher being escorted from the St. Clair Shores building because administrators thought pictures used in the project were too risque.

The segment, roughly eight minutes, that was broadcast to the entire school Tuesday on its in-house TV network featured pictures students in the district had posted on MySpace.com. They showed students drinking, posing provocatively or partially nude, and in one case kissing a vodka bottle.

I don’t know exactly what the deal is here (though if someone can hunt down this video that these kids put together for their school, I’d love to see it), but as far as I can tell from these two articles, while the student report was accurate and probably useful, it also featured stuff that really shows up on MySpace that school officials would rather not know about.

Anyway, my graduate course this semester features about five or so high school teachers, and without a doubt, the rules are different there than they are in (so-called) higher ed. For me, it’s one thing for me to see pictures of students (even mine) drinking or wearing swimwear or whatever; it’s another thing entirely when you’ve got high school kids– minors– doing these things.

On the other hand, this is what “the kids” are doing, as they say. One of my students, who is a high school teacher around here, brought up some MySpace pages from kids in his classes, and these pages featured pictures of scantily clad young people, lots of drinking, etc., etc. Now, this puts my student, these other students’ teacher, into a kind of problematic place because since these kids are, well, kids, my student/their teacher does have at least some (potentially) responsibility here.

The other thing that makes it tough for these high school teacher-types is the broad spectrum of reactions from stake-holders. On the one side, you’ve got parents and teachers who are outraged (outraged, I tell you!) that teenagers are getting together and drinking and doing sexually risque things, and the absolute last thing these people want to do is talk about these things (or sex education or drug use or whatever) with kids in school– it’ll put the wrong idea in their mushy heads. On the complete other side of the spectrum though, you’ve got parents (at least according to my students who are high school teachers) who are so out of touch with their kids or so overly tolerant of the behavior of their children that they’ve become enablers, the kinds of parents who buy the kids the kegs on the theory that “at least they’re drinking where I can see them.” These parents probably don’t care if their fifteen year-old daughter is posing on her MySpace pages in a skimpy bikini with a bottle of vodka in one hand a cup of beer in the other. And in a sense, these parents are as big of a problem for high school teachers since these are the people that are driving the first group of parents over the edge.

Me? Hey, my students are adults whether they want to admit that or not. I think it’s ill-advised for them to post pictures of themselves doing drunk and stupid things, but it’s their problem. I’m not going to call their parents. And my son is 8, so for at least a few years, I don’t think we’re going to have to worry too much about this.

One of the things we did in class Monday night was actually sign up for a MySpace account, and anyone who is curious about this space ought to do the same thing. For one thing, MySpace’s “age of consent” for participating in its forums is 14, which strikes me as a bit young, at least too young without some kind of parental consent. As I understand it (I can’t remember where I read this), MySpace started as a space for 18 and above, and then they lowered the age to 16, and then 14. That seems a pretty crass way to get more users.

The other significant thing (I think) is when you sign up for a MySpace account, you see almost immediately how this is really a social networking software about “hooking up” in all the meanings of that term and it is not a writerly space. And actually, it seems to be kind of a swarmy social space. The first thing you do with MySpace is you set up your “background and profile;” the first point there is “Marital status;” and the first button option is “swinger.” The second thing you fill out is your sexual orientation. Click on over to “networking,” and there’s a “field” option, which seems like a good idea at first– I could maybe “network” with fellow teachers or writers or students or what-have-you. But those aren’t the fields they have in mind. Instead, the fields listed don’t include education and they do include dance, fashion, film, gaming, television, and nightlife. Oh, and each one of these has a sub-field and a role; so, for example, if you select “dance,” you can then easily select “performer” and then select “exotic dancer.”

And as far as blogging goes: it’s easy to upload and display pictures on MySpace, but the blogging function seems buried to me, and most of the MySpace pages I’ve seen just don’t include one.

So I don’t know. On the one hand, I still think that there are many mountains made out of MySpace mole hills in the press. I don’t think MySpace is to blame for getting kids killed at a party (we don’t blame the phone company for these kinds of things either), I think that MySpace is merely making activities that teenagers have done forever visible to a large audience, and an audience that clearly is much larger than most of these kids realize. I’m not in favor of school districts closing MySpace access down, and I am in favor of using MySpace as a “teaching moment.”

On the other hand, MySpace really is pretty stupid.

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13 Responses to Even more MySpace stuff (and this will probably be it for a while on that….)

  1. These impressions add a helpful dose of perspective on Myspace as a writing phenomenon. I guess, then, the social dimensions of writing account for a good deal of the interest in myspace. And the local perspective is helpful too. I feel like a lot of the reaction to myspace expresses or gets confused with the general complaints or concerns with youth behavior and the state of the world. Parents–don’t care, are coddlers, heads stuck in sand. Kids–fill in the blank. Perhaps if we can strip away some of these old favorites we can get a better sense of the space as well.

  2. joanna says:

    I have begun blogging with my college freshman, half of whom have Myspace accounts. I’ve been using its “social” networking as a point of departure for discussions about audience and so forth. I have a Myspace account and my students have invited me to be their friend, but I don’t want to be their friend. I explained that I felt that Myspace was their space to be young, goofy and so forth and that I felt that I was invading their privacy (or “space” as we used to say in the 80’s)–I used the analogy of residential colleges and dorms and said that it was as if I, their middle-aged professor, were living in the dorm with them.
    We have begun to use the blog function, though, and while I’m not certain that I’ll let my students use Myspace again, I have to say that they are diving into the assignment happily.
    I would not use Myspace again only because it is a social network that is highly social and I ‘d prefer my students to have an academic blog for school. This is all such a new terrain, social networking, and its implications for academic and personal life/writing are unfolding every day.

  3. joanna says:

    Just let me add, too, that the professor icon with the invitation to rate my professors gave me pause! “What if you are the professor?” I asked. And this lead into the discussion of space.

  4. Steven D. Krause says:

    To me, calling MySpace a “social networking software” is somewhat charitable, kind of like calling a pick-up/singles bar a “casual dining” experience. The MySpace interface seems like it really is supposed to be about “hooking up.”

    Which is fine– I think college kids in particular need a place to do stuff like that. I don’t have a problem of 18 or so year olds posting goofy pictures of parties and dancing and drinking and all the rest. Good for them. (“Ah,” thought the professor on the verge of his 40th birthday, “to be young again.”)

    The problem I have is I don’t think it is a particularly effective writerly or even socializing space (if part of socializing/networking here means exchanging meaningful texts with a wide audience), especially when compared to “real” blogging software– blogger, blogsome, typepad, MT, WordPress, etc. And it just seems to me that popular press accounts have kind collapsed all of these things into one category, which is not good.

    Also not good is the whole bit with 14 year olds. Like I said in my post, it is one thing for 18 or so and up -year-olds posting pictures of themselves scantily clad or drunk or whatever; it’s another thing entirely for 14 year olds to be doing this.

  5. joanna says:

    Yes, I agree about the under- 18 crowd (or, under 15) participating in Myspace. And I agree,too, with the popular press categorizing it all under one area, which no doubt confuses everyone. More importantly, though, its main purpose does not seem to be blogging. But, as I said before , my students are creating blogs and doing the work, and are willing to talk about the differences in audience and so forth.

    Ah, to be forty again!

  6. cheryl says:

    We’ve been discussing myspace, facebook, xangas and more in my english 121 and english 328 classes. What’s interesting to me are the number of students who do NOT know anything about these sites. Even among my 18-20 year old students, a good percentage have never seen xangas or myspace, etc.. We’ve looked at a number of articles (both recent and last spring), and students are definitely intriqued with the sites. If you recall, the Ann Arbor News ran a front page article last Spring about the xanga furor at Tappan Middle School. Now, a mere 11 months later virtually none of the Tappan students use xangas. They’ve moved on to myspace.com. Interesting,eh?

  7. Ysais Martinez says:

    We cannot omit the marketing style of the website. Myspace is a business, designed to make money. The way they make money is through ads, which are seen by almost 70 million people. I think it’s a shame that they are allowing kids under 16 to join the website as a mean to increase their audience. It’s abusive, it’s a danger. It would be interesting to make a study about how many hours a day people spend on myspace. The amount of time would be amazingly big. I say this because I believe the website has some tricks to make people “addicted” to it. One of them is the customization of your page, which is extremely appealing to users. You would be surprised about how many websites are out there just to “pimp” your myspace page. Myspace is a phenomenon, it’s a network that is growing up faster everyday, and there are definitely weirdos using it out there, I know some people that shutdown their accounts because somebody really scared them. Who scared them? Noone knows! It could be anybody, anywhere.

    The website has policies against nude pictures, copyrighted images, etc, etc but because of its many users, it’s really hard to track them all. Some friends say they wouldn’t accept a friend request from someone with nude pictures in his/her profile. And finally I agree with the idea that myspace is a “Hook up” site in the background, the professor that wrote the article above made good obsevations that make sense.

  8. HD says:

    I think you have it right when you write, “I think that MySpace is merely making activities that teenagers have done forever visible to a large audience…”

    The problem is that people don’t want to see it. And not just parents. Nobody wants to see it. Instead we want to make it the fault of the website and pretend that 50 years ago children were little angels. It is so easy to defer blame in these situations.

    I do, however, take issue with your nothing more than a “hook up” idea. It is true that most myspacers do not have blogs, but there is a pretty big blogging community on myspace truly interested in blogging and networking. The writing communities that are formed can be very helpful. I don’t think we can judge something based on how 14 year olds use it. Let us look at 40 year olds instead. (Though I do agree that 14 is too young to be on myspace, but considering that a 14 year old could easily pose as an 18 year old, I am not sure why the distinction matters.)

    H

  9. justin says:

    i agree completley with the opinion.

  10. Athena L. says:

    OK i dont agree that u should shut down myspace 1 because people like it 2 because its a service that helps people feed their kids or themselves i mean if u were to hut down myspace then all of the people that work there would be like with no jobs and that would suck alot for them and they would be mad for example this site how would u like it if after all the hard work u put into it all of a sudden someone decides to close it down u probably be pissed off thats how tom would feel if u did dat to his page so im on myspaces’ side im proud to say i own a myspace!!!

  11. Athena L. says:

    U kno what myspace is for 14 year old and up but dont u know that half or about 75% of those people arent een in highschool yet arent even in jr. high /highschool yet???

  12. terri. says:

    i dont agree with myspace being shut down because it is very cool place and you can meet reall nice people on there and is a place to express your feelings and hope/dreams and it has been blocked at my school and i need to find a site to unblock it because no body is the smae when myspace is blocked =[ somebody help please man im not normal anymore =[ arggggrrrrrrhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!! help please lol…

  13. Bill Van Loo says:

    My dilemma is that I’m using MySpace as a promotional tool, being an independent musician, but also getting close to finishing my teaching certificate and joining the ranks of the professional educators. One of the students I substitute taught for this week just tried to add me as a friend!

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