Playing it too safe

Nick Carr is troubled about the safeness of MySpace. Me, too.

Tattoo parlor in Austin, TexasI've got two kids. They play World of Warcraft as much as we allow them to spend time online. People swear there. My daughter has learned to recognize when to stop talking to people in chats. While my son has experimented with being vulgar online—he doesn't swear anywhere near as often or inappropriately as I do—he is learning from his interactions how to be in conversation with people, adult, Night Elf, or otherwise.

Nick Carr, in a posting today, laments concerns about MySpace, which has become the center of a new fear-based campaign against moral depravity among youth.

I'll tell you what scares me about MySpace. It's not how dangerous it is, but how safe.

I couldn't agree more. There's an antisepticPassion is overrated. Community building takes some determination and political acumen, as well. quality about the place, even with all the sexuality and faux gangsta attitude. If I remember right, being a teenager is all about sex, finding an identity, and sex. Oh, it's about sex, too, lots and lots of sex. MySpace reflects that teen reality, which parents should accept as part of their kids' life, just as it was for all of us as teenagers. The sex-and-teenagers nexus isn't going to change.

I've spent some time on MySpace. It isn't jarring if you've been paying attention to your kids' personalities. It's only scary to folks who haven't been there, relying on rumor rather than fact to judge MySpace, and to fundamentalists that are looking for something to object to, just as they objected to Elvis and The Beatles.

MySpace is so safe that girls clearly fail to understand that pictures posted today will haunt them in the future (the pictures may be risque; that's what teens are by nature).

Down deep, though, MySpace is safe in the way that encourages conformity, revolving around tribal identities copied straight from mass culture.

Danah Boyd talked at ETech about how culture is carried by language and design. She emphasizes passion as the keystone of community, saying "If you are building a community, if you are trying to support the evolution of culture, passion is everything." Passion is overrated, though it is certainly important. Community building takes determination, social and political acumen, too.

I've been a proponent of the idea of "creation of setting" as key to community success, much more than passion. It's an idea propounded by community and educational psychologist Seymour Sarason that involves a rigorous assessment of needs and resources, especially those that lie inside the would-be members' heads, when attempting to establish a community. The first question, frankly, is if a community is justified. A lot of communities may not be sustainable, even if we'd like to believe they are.

MySpace is clearly sustainable, but it is built on a marketing foundation—it was created to promote bands and, like so many Web things, spun wildly out of the design parameters it began with—that means it's missing some of the features of community, while other qualities it was lacking have been filled in by the members. Not all the filling will be pleasant and we are certain to hear stories, as we do about any community online or off, about MySpace being a setting for sexual stalking.

What we're not going to hear is stories about young people deciding that thinking differently and taking stands against the crowd is worthwhile, because the MySpace environment rewards conformity. The aping of adult sexuality and gang culture by so many kids on the site is ample proof of how demanding the pressure is to play along.

Yes, there are some dark alleys there, but MySpace is still a breed of corporate town. Bad things happen in office parks with security services, too, but not unfettered free speech and persistent non-conformism, which kids need as much as props from their posse.


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