Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Michael Kennedy: dude, remember when I talked to you about killing people on Myspace?

Sad news today that the second police officer shot last week in Fairfax County by local-crazy-kid-who-played-too-many-video-games Michael Kennedy has died. Kennedy - whose house contained dozens of rifles, handguns, and other weapons - jacked a van, drove it to a police station, and fired 70 rounds on the officers. This only a couple of weeks after escaping a mental hospital, and apparently only minutes after telling some buds that he "needed an exorcism".

Of course, like every other person in the world under the age of 30 (including myself), Kennedy had
a Myspace page (it has since been deleted). I took a long look at it last week, and what grabbed me was how ordinary it was relative to so many other Myspace profiles. Myspace is a virtual slop trough of teen angst. So many kids on there meet to commiserate about the world and how they want everyone to die, and how they hurt and get hurt and so forth. There's this mind-numbing sameness to it all.

There was a sameness to the messages on his profile as well. No one directly expressed much grief for the officers -- or him, for that matter. It was mostly messages like "I hear the voices, too, man" or "Way to go down in a blaze of glory, bro!" or "remember when we always talked about doing something like this when we worked at Starbucks? I can't believe you actually did it." Had I not known, it may have been impossible to tell that he wasn't simply a guy who recently moved to a new town, or gotten punished for telling off a teacher.

I think this emotional numbness and lack of receptiveness to others on Myspace and other online communities (and thus, among the millions of young people in everyday life for whom these kinds of things are a primary social outlet) is a product of two things. One, it's because every profile loosely follows the same physical template of design and basic "about me" categories of information, thus limiting the ways in which one can communicate and express oneself, thus establishing a kind of conformity among the members. This might exacerbate the very feelings that person was joining this online community to alleviate.

Second, the distance between people and the fact that these are not direct encounters take away from the emotional vesting. Myspace is set up in such a way that not only do people never directly "see" each other, but there's no direct dialog either, no "hi, how are you doing...I'm fine," etc. You can leave comments, but can't have a back-and-forth Internet engagement. The result is that people begin to simply use other people and their opinions as platforms on which to build and distribute their own messages and opinions. So there's no need to pay attention to others - you just leave your own two cents and move on. In the post-rampage comments on Kennedy's page, there was no comprehension -- not even appreciation, but basic, simple comprehension -- that something very serious had happened in real life. It didn't seem real to them. It was just another opportunity to get on a soapbox.

So basically, young people feel alienated and isolated, they join online communities like Myspace, which offer them a standardized means of expressing themselves and having impersonal communications, but in the end, it only makes them feel more isolated and alienated from others and, eventually, from humanity itself. Their attempt to become an individual and make meaningful connections is curtailed by the standardized and ultimately very impersonal nature of the online community, so it's self-defeating.

Does any of this make sense? Sorry for rambling - I'm just trying to work this all out.

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