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Social Networking and the Real World.

With the introduction of Myspace, Facebook and other parallel models of social networking websites throughout the past seven years, the world has undoubtedly become a much closer place than ever before. Technological brainchildren like Twitter, Youtube, Digg and similar social networking portals have evolved past the typical mainstay of profile based "friendship websites". It would be uncultured as well as naive for anyone to deny that social networking hasn't brought people closer to one another than ever before with tools like messaging, instant updates, comments, and multimedia based communication. Yet, with the great increase in connection, declaration of personal freedom, social approval and validation that these websites bring, there is also an underlying issue which I believe faces our youth and community: vanity.

Yup, me.
Yup, me.

The internet has for a long time been an environment for anonymity and freedom of speech in which individuals are free to express their opinions and viewpoints on topics ranging from politics and technology, to love and culture, and so on. Yet, with the arrival of websites such as Myspace and Facebook, the aspect of the anonominity of communication is no longer the exception. Average people from everyday walks of life are now able to connect with their friends, family, co-workers and strangers with the click of a mouse and some basic background information. Not only are websites like Myspace and Facebook used for staying in contact with friends and family, they are also used as form of personal advertisement and self assessment. In a realm of society where a user is free from the restraints and confines of social approval, they may often find it easy to be whoever and whatever they choose to be without the fear of condemnation from their peers and interpersonal relationships. These social networking websites are an easy dimension to find yourself lost in, while still maintaining a feeling of perceived self. In a world where fantasy, liberty and pleasure are the intent, the bi-product however is indulgence, instant gratification and confirmation of one's ideal self.

If, let's say, an average person who doesn't fancy themselves as being tech-savvy, were to look at a Myspace profile for instance, they would probably compare it to what one would think of as a classifieds ad. As a user of these online social networking websites you can communicate a version of yourself to people that you most likely wouldn't admit to in real life. Users poses the ability to add their own aesthetic touch to the design and layout of their profile; add their favorite images and music, as well as stay updated to what their friends are doing. However, when you take a closer look at a user’s profile, you will typically, but not always see a disturbing trend in how an individual will broadcast themselves to their peers. The typical girl, for example, will portray themselves in a promiscuous way while still maintaining an image of independence and self worth. If you look at the average Myspace-esque photo, fashion plays a huge role. However, the trend in the style is not the issue; it's the trend in the openness and fabrication of their real lives which they lead other people to believe.

The yearning for approval is nothing new. Society has always played a large role in how a person views their own self image. As children we are raised by our parents and society to fit into certain orthodoxies, and play our gender roles. Men are told as boys that they are rough, rugged and independent; while women on the other hand are handled with a different prudence. For example, a girl shouldn't be hit by a boy, because it's wrong. So in this instance the parents are assigning a weaker more submissive role to a woman. Yet, on the reverse spectrum, this enables women to play a more gentle and important role as they grow up. A father of a girl is their protector, hence the phrase "daddies girl". A girl is given much more care as they are growing up. So when a woman reaches puberty and begins to look at guys, they typically don't want a weak submissive guy, because they've been handled with care all of their lives. So, we see that our gender roles are set at a very young age to establish who we are supposed to become in our society.

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Anyone who has a Myspace account, or a Facebook account has probably felt a feeling of jealousy or admiration when they see a profile of someone who appears to have everything in order. You know, when you login and you see that bulletin that says something along the lines of: “That was so fun last night! I got so drunk =)!” Or when they write a blog exclaiming how much better their life is now than it was before. This is the same thing humans do in our day to day lives. We are at a constant war with one another to see who is worthier of acceptance – and it all stems from the idea and need to reproduce. Men are hard coded to find women who are fertile, and they see this in their physical beauty. It’s a natural programming encoded in our DNA which asserts us of the statistical probability in how well a woman is able to reproduce. That’s why men really only think about sex appeal as opposed to women who look at a group of men, and will decide the best candidate based on how successful, healthy and optimistic of the future they appear. Women are looking for a man who can be a good provider, as well as bear a child with a low likelihood of genetic defects (which is why women look at a guy and gauge how attractive his features are).

Now, I may have side-tracked a bit there up above, but it all fits into this self perceived concept which we have that asserts that because we are individuals, we think that we are specifically unique, and our lives are not co-dependent upon one another. Yet, the fact of the matter is, is that everyone is seeking everyone elses approval, no matter what they say or how they show it. This is where social networking comes in. It’s an easy avenue for making yourself appear to be completely different than who you really are. The level of transparency and honesty on the internet is vague, and hard to be found even while looking at a friends profile. There is a trend, in my opinion, happening with our youth which needs to be addressed. It’s not healthy for young girls and young boys to constantly have to compete with one another and trick others into thinking that they are what they feel people think they should be. I see dozens of my friends profiles and they appear so different on the internet than they are in real life, and it always seems to be that they want to show off, or seem like they are perfect and infallible. I suppose this why Myspace and other social networking websites are often used to meet people and date them. Users are simply mimicking how they would compensate in the real world, ie: nice car, cool clothes and the appearance of a lot of money and wealth. Yet, I think that the ability to be so open and connected is teaching young kids who have unlimited access to this form of socializing that tricking others into thinking you are someone you’re not is a good way of getting people to like you.

It is my hope that as our generation ages, we will be able to avoid some of the mistakes that many of our predecessors have made. Our society rewards instant gratification and applauds success. We falsely believe that at the end of the road, how much money we have and how popular we are will make a difference. A very intelligent professor who teaches at UCI once told me, “It’s not where you end up at the end of your journey through life, it’s the experiences you went through which will make you the person you are.” Happiness is the bi-product of finding yourself, not the goal and means to the end. If we can put aside popularity for self admission, and stop comparing our lives to other peoples, maybe our generation can overcome the many disorders such as depression, drug addiction, alcoholism and murders which seems to grip man-kind. And maybe the way we can accomplish this is through communication on the internet. Using tools that are at our disposal to better our race, instead of to gain personal gratification may be the only way in which we can reverse the past, and look forward to the future.