When I was a senior in college, taking a senior capstone course in the American Studies department of Utah State (not even including a link to it because it’s a joke … American Studies degrees are jokes), we were assigned the final project of a paper and presentation on a good example of contested space. You know, like how white men came on over and took all of the indigenous peoples’ land and then reallocated it to them, like they had the right. So the degree gave me a certain perspective on America. I can’t help it — take a colonial American history class from the perspective of the native people, and you’ll get all the feels, too. Anyhow, things like ANWAR were chosen, and I decided on MySpace.
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Because I’m old. I know. MySpace isn’t cool anymore.
At the time, the Am Studies advisor wasn’t particularly pleased with my decision, although she never told me I couldn’t choose such a topic (I was the only one who wrote and presented on anything pop culture related), and I did get a B as my final grade, so I guess I can’t complain too much. But I did find myself remarkably jealous of all the Am Studies students of BYU last semester who were required to write about things occurring in LA, which … my how the times have changed. She wasn’t familiar with MySpace outside of knowing the name and the general idea of it (social networking? Really? That’s not going to last.), which I think added to her distaste for my decision, and it wasn’t till post-college, a couple years ago, when I realized my paper and presentation were actually awesome. Till then, I’d felt kind of like a failure.
Being a secretary not using her college degree may have added to that.
My thesis was simple: social networking will ultimately alter the way society interacts with itself. Now I realize this seems like a big huge “duh,” but remember I was graduating back in 2006, when Facebook was primarily known as that website for high school students, with no News Feed, ads, suggestions, subscriptions, likes, etc. etc. et cetera. At the time, I think a lot of us weren’t totally aware of how much social networking had changed (AOL chat rooms? Do they still exist even?) and how much it would change us.
The sole reason I decided to make a foray into likening social networking to contested space was because I’d found some scriptures at the Institute building, chock full of personal notes, and I thought the person might want them back. There was one lone email address written inside, and I thought even if it didn’t belong to the original owner, perhaps this friend/acquaintance might know to whom they did belong. So I reached out — I explained the situation, and then I waited for a response. And I got one — the guy didn’t know who it belonged to, couldn’t remember even giving out his email address, and then at the end of what I thought was a simple, almost professional correspondence, asked if I was single.
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Um, dude. What if I am someone’s grandma. I wasn’t, as it turned out, but I was so thrown by this inquiry (something that I imagine most current readers are rolling their eyes at and muttering to themselves, “What is wrong with her? Totally harmless question.”) that I turned it into an entire senior project. Because who asked questions like that? Who was this guy? What would he have done had I responded? (I did not, by the way, because I am not in the business of becoming the topic of the nighttime news.) Where did he come off? It all seemed really peculiar, and I couldn’t help but imagine social networking was partially to blame.
And I still hold pretty firmly to that. We are a voyeuristic species — we want to know what’s going on in other peoples’ lives all the time, even if it turns out to be stupid or mundane or embarrassing (why else does “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” continue airing? Yeah). And what’s worse (and of course I am lumping myself into this group because you’ll probably be hard pressed to find another person who is as addicted to all forms of social networking as I), we’re more than happy to publish it for all the world. Because at the end of the day, despite how creepy we think voyeurism may be, we want to be noticed, to be followed, to be low-level stalked because it makes us feel important/interesting. People want their lives to be witnessed. So we publish all the things and we share it with strangers, and there’s been a huge shift in communication between “Hi, you’re a stranger, I’ll make a little small talk with you” to “Hi, you’re a stranger, and whatever you won’t tell me about yourself I’ll find on the internet, so you may as well tell me now.” We ask questions that would make our grandparents roll over in their graves , we overshare information that still makes our parents cringe.
And it’s continued to (d)evolve. I find myself opening up to acquaintances much earlier on in potential relationships than I would have even three years ago, and it will probably continue to be that way. It just is what it is, and despite probably our lamest efforts to fight it, we lose every time. I’ve always been something of an oversharer, and the internet and social networking have only perpetuated that. It’s a weird place to be, my friends. I want to stop, I don’t.
Thus enters the Internet Chain Letter. You know how these used to be — those lame email forwards your uncle would send out to the whole family that you’d skim and then put in your junk box because you didn’t even want to bother with it. We used to hate chain letters, and yet now it’s almost as if, as a society, we applaud them. We encourage them. And we act like they’re our human right and that we are entitled to share them with everyone. Literally everyone.
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One of the more recent chain letters — a rant from a single Texas mom to President Obama that went almost immediately viral — spurned so many feelings and thoughts within myself, I almost sat right down at this very blog and responded in kind with my own letter. And suddenly I realized — that simply made me one of them. And under all circumstances, may God forbid that I ever become one of them. So I ranted about it to Husband (bless his heart for listening to me when I share things with him I want to share with the world) and talked it over with a few friends and sort of got it out of my system. I mean, I totally get it — you write something that potentially thousands of people might read, you feel validated and important and right, and frankly I know no one who doesn’t love the exhilarating experience of being right.
And then we sit back and we wonder how cyber-bullying suddenly got so out of hand, how abhorrent people got their own television shows, how we’re walking around every day, way more stressed and frustrated about everything far more than we ever should. We don’t like the President, we do; we don’t like big business, we’re fine with it; we want to save the planet, we think green people are nuts; we want socialized medicine, we think it would ruin the nation; we think veganism is weird, we think it’s the only way we’ll survive. I used to be really politically savvy, and I’m being serious here. When I was in college, I knew all the political things, and I enjoyed keeping up with them. These days, politics of all type make me so upset, I try to pretend like they don’t exist.
So. The internet continues on. Chain letters will remain rampant. Anxiety levels are higher than they’ve ever been. And maybe we need to change that.