Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The ebb and flow of a MySpace-enabled life

Once upon a time I was a college journalist, and later on I worked for a small daily paper. Today, it’s painful to look at some that early work and see how, well, amateurish it was in both its construction and its conception of the world.

Here at SJSU, our student paper is the Spartan Daily and it’s filled with wanna-be journalists who have to crank out several stories a week. (At least at The Tech, we were only twice a week). So, as with any student (or small town) newspaper, the quality is mixed.

But one thing student newspapers have is articles written by students — teens or twentysomethings. So there’s often an authenticity that can’t be captured by hard-boiled professionals in their 30s or 40s. On rare occasions, this authenticity rises above the level of “the state owes me a free education so don’t raise my fees” form of narcissism.

Today I had to sit up and take notice, when I read a great column: “MySpace lives to tell our stories” by Michael Pasaoa, a senior staff writer at the Daily.

The column starts with the premise of dead friends who live on only in MySpace. Some remain listed among the “Top Eight” of their friends, others get birthday cards, and all have a page left behind en memoriam for the world to find. The writing is compelling because it is serious, thoughtful and written from the heart. (In academia, a friend told me of an an analogous case of a faculty member who died at aged 36 but her co-authors got her papers published posthumously).

But then Pasaoa segues into the broader message of the MySpace generation: that if you live your life online, then the traces (both in life and death) will be recorded online:

Our default pictures will change. From high school graduation pictures to college graduation pictures. From wedding pictures to pictures with our first children. MySpace will continue to catalog the parts of our lives that we choose to display to the public.

I'm not sure if we'll grow out of this stage and eventually stop updating, or checking for our friends' updates, but we'll never know when our time's up.

We'll always be remembered online.
For those of us over 25, the message is clear: these social networking sites are more than just a networking tool, just like cellphones are more than a way of making a phone call.

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