MySpace (or, When Evolution Favors the Stupid)

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “Dangers of MySpace.” (Warnings just flying at us - it’s on the news almost every day.)

Come on people. Let’s be realistic.

Is it really anything new? All this hype is really over the top. MySpace is the new AOL.

Here’s a healthy dose of reality: your children are stupid. I don’t mean to offend you, but it’s most likely true. Pretty much everyone is stupid for the first 10-20 years of their lives, and a lot of people don’t ever wake up. (That’s why these news outlets can get so much readership by printing bunk stories like these. But more on that in a minute.) Your job as a parent is to protect and guide your children through the stupid weak part of their lives so that they can grow into strong intelligent adults.

MySpace didn’t make your children stupid. They came out of you that way. MySpace doesn’t offer them anything that they couldn’t have gotten 20 years ago. Pedophiles are nothing new. They’ve been around forever, and they’ve always been a danger to your children.

Here’s an idea, just a little thought experiment. Take a naive rebellious 14-year-old girl trying desperately to find an identity for herself. Tell her that she’s not allowed to do X. (It doesn’t much matter what “X” is.) In the vast majority of cases, she’ll find a way to do it.

Your kids are stupid. They’re bound to do stupid things. But they’re still human, and devious craftiness is a fundamental pillar of the human experience. They’re going to find really clever ways to do stupid things.

Your kids are more insightful than you or they realize. Kids can smell bullshit better than the best lie-detector. Hold a contradiction in your mind, or try to enforce an inconsistent policy in your dealings with them, and you’ll find that they simply refuse to play ball.

And for all the talk of “sexual predators” and “the dangers of MySpace,” let’s look at another fact: Rape is a physical act, not a virtual one. No one was ever “raped” in a chat-room. They may have talked about rape, but you can’t actually make physical contact with someone through a computer screen. Physically impossible.

Do you have any idea how many computers kids these days have access to, and how skilled most of them are at using them? Chances are, if you’re over the age of 40, and you have a teenage son or daughter, they can get by almost any parental protection you can think to put in place. If that doesn’t work, they can always go to the nearest library, coffee shop, school, or who knows what else, and surf around MySpace to their heart’s content.

And, by the rationale that “MySpace is Dangerous!”, shouldn’t you really worry about any internet access? The internet is a mostly sleazy place. Anyone can put anything on it that they want — that’s kind of the point, and that’s why it’s so great. But there’s a lot of the internet that isn’t sleazy, and is in fact very useful, healthy, and will most likely help your children grow and learn. MySpace is just another easy-access low-effort portal to web presence. It’s the AOL of the 21st century.

“Oh, but kids can be exposed to sexual predators. There was this one girl who was killed when she went on a date with someone she met on MySpace!”

Newsflash: people are killed every day - MySpace didn’t invent murder. For each girl who was killed by someone she met on MySpace, how many do you think were killed by someone they met in the paper, or at a bar, or through a friend? It happens. It’s one of the dangers of living in human society. But, next to the dangers posed by cars, cholesterol, and cancer, it’s a pretty minor threat.

If you really want to protect your children from things like this, you need to do three things.

  1. Don’t be stupid about what’s safe and what isn’t. Don’t believe hype just because it’s in the news. Seriously, people, think for 2 seconds about what MySpace actually is and then decide what the potential dangers are.
  2. Communicate with your children. Talk to them about what they’re doing, what they enjoy, and what they’re interested in. Keep in mind that a fundamental part of good communication is wanting to know. Don’t just ask so that you can judge and proscribe - first find a desire in yourself to know, because you love your children, and then try to satisfy that desire by being inquisitive and curious. All humans want to be known (hell, that’s how MySpace thrives in the first place.) Try to actually figure out why they do what they do and want what they want.
  3. Set rules that make sense and are enforcible. Unenforcible rules (like, “don’t use MySpace”) are a waste of time, and worse, they undermine your authority.

The REAL danger of MySpace

The real danger of MySpace is that it’s a really crappy website, and it can teach your children bad web habits.

As crappy goes, MySpace is the crappiest. It’s constantly broken and remarkably error-prone. They only let you upload 12 pictures. You really can’t do much of anything cool with your page. The ads are remarkably intrusive, and don’t seem to be in any way targeted. (Even the most basic demographic targeting is missing — I constantly see ads telling me to kiss George Clooney.) It’s bloated with an absurd amount of table-based markup, and doesn’t even begin to validate. The features are bland. Almost every page looks terrible, it’s slow, and overall it just lowers expectations with constant apologies and unfulfilled promises.

In short, it looks like crap, the user experience sucks, the back-end is always breaking, and the front-end is monstrous.

As another example, check out Yahoo! 360. Same concept - friendlists, blog, some cool little doohickies, pictures, etc. Plus, 360 lets you show RSS feeds from sites you like, let’s you use your Yahoo! Avatar, you can upload a bajillion pictures (instead of only 12), and so on. It’s easier to use, has better features, is more responsive and non-broken, and looks a lot nicer.

But 360 has nowhere near the amount of users that MySpace does, and might never get there. Why? Because MySpace has millions and millions of users, and with a social networking site, a big social network trumps any user experience.

MySpace was one of the first on the social networking scene, and got the first foothold in that niche. MySpace is basically synonymous with “social networking website.”

If anything, the danger that your kids face from MySpace is that they might spend enormous amounts of time on a crappy website, getting nothing accomplished, learning nothing, doing nothing, being nothing.

This is a real danger. Yeah, of course, you should teach your children about predators, and do your best to make sure that they’re not meeting strangers indiscriminately. But even more importantly, you should teach them to not spend loads of time on crappy websites.

One Response to “MySpace (or, When Evolution Favors the Stupid)”

  1. On May 2nd, 2006 at 02:42:50, The Mrs. Said:

    I say AMEN to that!

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated like crazy using a variety of plugins. There is a very high likelihood that your comment won't show up right away, especially if you have never commented here before, but it was not deleted.

Please be patient, and do not post your comment more than once. It will show up once it is approved.

You must be logged in to post a comment.