lhowell

The Bartender and My Wife on the MySpace Generation

In big media MySpace advertising global, marketing, social networking, social-tainment on December 31, 2006 at 4:24 am

I just had the most intriguing conversation at a local restaurant recently. I asked the bartender if he uses MySpace, and he replied “yeah, somewhat” “all the high school kids at work are on it.” I asked him to elaborate. He said, they are always asking him to ‘check out’ their pictures or they would say, “I will send you a message” and he retorted, “I will see you tomorrow at work, can you just tell me now.”

The conversation is fascinating to me as a 43 year old consultant, who has been involved with social networking sites as they are called for almost 10 years. But I am deeply interested in the psychology behind the use of MySpace. I asked the bartender, if young people actually desire to have a “real” conversation, sans the computer. His response, “most young people don’t know how.” I inquired further of our babysitter, who is in the 11th grade. And she said it’s fun to look at other people’s page to see new updates.” When I try to dig deeper, I get nothing–it’s as if I am speaking another language–I then ask myself, are we THAT shallow? That simple in our thinking that we simply want to look at someone’s ghastly page that is barely legible and certainly not comprehensive—the notion today is that these types of “spaces” allow young people to express themselves and share who they are.

Once I return home, I turn to my wife from Berkeley where all people have a sense of intellectual depth—right? Not so. I asked her, do you think young people want to have real conversations today. I added, “Are people that obsessed with popular media about Nicole Richie’s eating disorder or rail thin appearance that “real” and “relevant” content does not matter. She said, “for the most part, yeah.” I told her that I disagree. I said to her that I believe people are smarter than that. She said, to me “look sweetie, people don’t care about anything that does not impact or directly affect them.” I said to her no, I don’t believe people are that simple—is that just in the United States?

Back to the bartender, after a bit more discussion, he actually used the same phrase as my wife. People don’t care about 500,000 people being slaughtered in Darfur or 11 year olds being trafficked for sex, or anything else for that matter. My wife, said, I dare you to go the store and ask anyone you see, if they have even heard of Darfur? I didn’t take her up on it, I think largely because we live in suburban America, where defending our country, losing weight and saving for retirement tends to be the top priorities.

However, I believe that young people want something more with the time they spend. Is that too altruistic of me? Don’t they at least want to start a legitimate conversation about something other than mindless chatter and cryptic messages left on their MySpace blogs? Ironically, this very proposition makes MySpace the perfect destination for pedophiles, fakesters, phishing schemes, sexual predators and spammers. People are so hungry for attention, and approval that a guy just released for sexual assault against minors can get a response from the people my wife says exist in abundance; I disagree, but the numbers signing up on MySpace might prove that my wife just might be correct—I sure hope not. MySpace is similar to an unsafe neighborhood—and I know, people will tell you to be careful and set your profile to private. But then, if these are largely people you know, why not just call, send an e-mail or text them?
As young people become young adults, their priorities will change—having a real job, rent and babies will do that to you. The business challenge for big media is that executives tend to be short-sighted and lack truly innovative models and thinking to execute radical new ways of engaging nomadic consumers of digital content. In fact, YouTube was started 17 years ago, believe it or not—it was called America’s Funniest Home Videos. It was one of the first viewer or user created content shows.

I think my wife and the bartender are wrong—however, she makes a strong case that a lot of people visit MySpace, that they must be doing something right—no, it’s no different than a mall—they walk around and typically don’t buy anything because they really don’t have any money to do so. This is no different on the web, which is why there is skepticism of the MySpace type experience and similar sites.

Perhaps this underscores the point of my wife and the bartender: people seem to care about trivial, silly, esoteric nothingness–it is hard to monetize this over the long-haul for sustainable revenue in hopes that someone will buy something to contribute to long-term shareholder value.

I disagree with the bartender and my wife. So what’s the answer?

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