Six Degrees of Separation

My 12-year-old niece has a MySpace that is somewhat typical of her age group. From what I can see, she says she’s older than she is so she can even have a MySpace, her about me reads like a text message (“and no1 else controls me…i don’t blame any1 4 something stupid that i did… i take responsibility 4 my own actions”) and her only blog entry is titled “oh life sucks!”.

She’s atypical in one sense that I’ve complimented her mother on: she has no clear pictures of herself on her page. I recognize her in a few of the tiny pictures that she has up (because I’ve known her since she was born), but these would not be pervert fodder.

Looking at her friend’s pages I saw a much more typical teen MySpace page – a bright flashy background, dozens of pictures of themselves and their friends, and comments about how much they “luv” one another. For the majority of her immediate friends, their profiles were locked, so I couldn’t see much though. Encouraging, right?

Then I started looking at her friends’ friends, I was confused – 14 year olds with a Playboy background, flirty-looking photographs, and sometimes comments that made me blush.

A third step away from my niece blew me away. I found a 16 year old girl with the main picture of herself a full body shot of her in a bra & underwear with the main tagline “CoMe ON iN lIck Me LiKe A LoLlY PoP!!” This girl’s profile wasn’t pirvate so I was able to look at the photographs on her page. She had poses of herself that I wouldn’t let a professional photographer catch me in. Next to her “Me” album, she had a “my famz” album with over a dozen pictures of her toddler cousins. Talk about a juxtaposition.

MySpace pages are like a teenager’s messy bedroom. It’s a place where they can freely (for the most part) express who they are – or who they’d like to be, but what does it mean for them when they leave their bedroom door open to strangers?

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Different Ways to Express Oneself

Quick question — what percent of teens do you think write just for the heck of it (not because they “have to” for school)?

Answer: A whopping 93% of teens say they write “for their own pleasure” according to a recent report by Pew Internet and American Life. That number astounded me. Given that 25% of adults haven’t even read a book in the past year, I would have guessed that the number of teens writing — creating their own texts — would have been a lot lower. It’s a reason to celebrate, IMO.

And what makes this finding even more astounding is that teens do NOT consider IMs, texts, and posting comments on social networking sites as “real writing.” So there. Teens are actually putting pen to paper (or, more likely, fingers to keyboard) and laying out their thoughts. And, as Richard Sterling, director of the National Writing Project stated in a news article: “When teens are given a chance to write extensively, their writing improves dramatically

The downside is that sometimes the lines between electronic writing and schoolwork do blur. Over half (2/3 even) of teens say they use some form of electronic communication shorthand in their academic assignments, such as improper caps, shortcuts (ex: I used IMO above), and emoticons.

As a college instructor myself, I do not appreciate the use of the first two shorthands in my students’ work. It is important that they know proper usage of capitalization and punctuation. As for the latter — the use of emoticons — I am a little less apprehensive. It’s very difficult to convey the emotion one is feeling in a writing assignment. And let’s face it, we aren’t all going to be remembered as literary greats. So why not sneak it a smiley or frown-face so that the reader is assured of the intent of tone? In fact, I use emoticons when I grade papers to let the student know how I am feeling; maybe that is why I defend the practice ;-).

I like this study. It shows that teens enjoy writing, especially when they can use their writing to help express themselves and address things they care about. It’s a glimmer of optimism among news that too often reports on the demise of teen character and the failure of our educational system.

@—>—-

How Do I Love Thee? I Better Not Say…

CNET news reports that charges of “of aggravated harassment and endangering the welfare of a child” against 18-year-old Isaiah Rodriguez have been dropped. He was accused of this behavior because he left a series of messages professing his undying devotion to a 14-year-old girl on her MySpace page.

According to CNET, the harassing words in question were: “I love you;” “we need to be together;” I will see you every day;” and “I will never stop trying to talk to you.”

Ruling in favor of Rodriguez, Judge Michael Gerstein stated:
The words “we need to be together;” “I will never stop talking to you;” and “I love you” are not threats, but appear to be merely the symptoms of unrequited love–the same hopeless affection that, among countless others, Dante felt for Beatrice; Don Quixote for Dulcinea; Cyrano for Roxane; Quasimodo for Esmeralda; Young Werner for Lotte; Jay Gatsby for Daisy Buchanan; and that Charlie Brown felt for the Little Red Haired Girl. While these romances do not usually end well for the pursuing party, the People have cited neither statute nor case law that might punish the communication of unrequited love, even if such is undesired.”

The defense also could have cited Helen Fisher’s work on love as evidence that we don’t know what the heck we are doing when we first fall in love:

But it does beg the question, at what point does/should age difference matter here? If the guy was 50, not 18, would the charges still be dropped? What if the two youth were both 14? Technically, the age gap from 14 to 18 is statutory rape territory. Though apparently no physical contact took place, it is somewhat surprising to me that age was not discussed more in this article.

Cyberexhibitionism

While in a game’s uncensored chat room last night, a couple began chatting. Rather than asking one another how their weekend had been, they began to talk explicitly about pouring melted chocolate over each other, licking it off, and then … well I’ll give you three guesses where the rest of the conversation went. The couple were told to “get a room” as their conversation escalated, but instead told the dissenter to “mute” them or to “go find your own room if this bothers you … it’s uncensored chat!” I play in uncensored rooms to see these kinds of interactions; I am intrigued by what makes a person want to share details of their sex life with strangers. Is it narcissism? Do they actually want the attention conversations like this create?

Online narcissism runs rampant. The multitude of social networking sites, blogging platforms, role-playing games and chat rooms allow material that a person doesn’t even share with his or her closest friend to be hung on the laundry line for all to see. Not only is the material there to see, but it’s meant to be looked at and talked about. As a member of the first generation who has essentially always had the internet, I am rarely surprised at what people share online. However, the cyberexhibitionist conversation I read last night was one of those surprises.

Why would this couple refuse to move their very provocative (and somewhat “alternative”) conversation to private chat? Did they want all of us reading about what they would do if they had white chocolate AND dark chocolate on their hands? Maybe they’re online exhibitionists. I don’t know whether the chatters were getting off from sharing their conversation with the public, but it made me wonder about the prevalence of online exhibitionism. This “cyberexhibitionism,” a term coined by Charles Sykes in his book The End of Privacy: The Attack on Personal Rights at Home, at Work, On-Line and in Court, is a new word for a relatively old deed.

Although I was witness to adult cyberexhibitionism, most people know that online exhibitionism exists for teens as well (visit MySpace and look at teens’ pictures – cyberexhibitionism at its finest!). Teen chat rooms are oftentimes uncensored and while it’s been a long time since I spent any time in one, I’m positive that this kind of talk occurs. Is this another way for teens to learn about sex online? Is it a healthy way for teens to learn about sex? Have you ever been an unintended audience to cyberexhibitionists? Did it bother you to see such uncensored talk of sexual acts in public forums?

Interesting (scary?) Thought

I was chatting with a student who is also a mother of a 4-year-old. As we were walking to the bus, she commented on how she was nervous about the role the internet is going to play in her child’s life. After all, she didn’t have computers growing up. What should she expect?

Then, she said something that I found very powerful. She said that there was no sense in her prohibiting computer use once he gets a little older because “by the time he is old enough to surf unsupervised, he will be able to hold his computer in his hand. I can’t see what he will be doing!”

Wow. She’s probably right. We have no idea where technology is going to take us. I mean, iPhones and other devices already have internet capabilities. It’s going to be mainstream in no time.

Bottom line is, we can’t focus on restricting access. We need to focus on teaching young persons how to use technology smartly and respectfully. Integrating this education into schools is going to be essential.

Become the Bimbo you always wanted to be!


There has been quite the stir about a intriguing website; MissBimbo. Geared toward the “tween” set, this site allows users of any age (although the creator states that it is geared towards nine- to 16-year-olds) to create their own “Bimbo.” Remember those Tamagotchi toys that everyone had a few years ago? This site has been likened to a perverted (both literally & figuratively) online version of those toys.

200,000 girls have created their own “Bimbo” they spend about 20 minutes a day playing Sudoku, buying new clothes and even hooking up with fake boys. The site also allows you to “face-off” with other “Bimbos” doing challenges. Doing these things earns you “Bimbo dollars” and “Bimbo Attitude points” which up your status on the website so that you can “stop at nothing to become the reigning bimbo!”

I tried to sign up (who doesn’t want a naked virtual character to babysit, earn money for & dress in “clubbing clothes”?) and was fully registered before receiving an email: “due to unforeseen worldwide interest in Miss Bimbo we have had difficulty in maintaining our game in the manner players have been accustomed.” No publicity is bad publicity? What happens when it shuts down your website? I may keep an eye on this to see if I can eventually join.

Different areas of the game encourage you to do certain actions:
“Accidentally forget to wear underwear – two days of guaranteed publicity!”
Level 7: “After you broke up with your boyfriend you went on an eating binge! Now it’s time to diet … your target weight is less than 132lbs.”
Level 9: “Have a nip & tuck operation for a brand new face. You’ve found work as a plus-sized model. To gain those vivacious curves, you need to weigh more than 154lbs.”
Level 11: “Bigger is better! Have a breast operation.”

These action requests are what cause comments such as those from Dee Dawson, a medical director of Rhodes Farm Clinic in England “This is as lethal as pro-anorexia websites. A lot of children will get caught up with the extremely damaging & appalling messages.” Beat chief executive Susan Ringwood agrees saying that “the website could make girls believe that weight & body size manipulation [are] acceptable.” I grew up playing Pac-Man and have yet to eat a bunch of dots after chasing them around in a dark maze. I also played a game where Bugs Bunny used ether to kill zombies and I’ve never had the urge to knock someone out with the anesthetic.

I really don’t know whether to laugh at the site & the hubbub about it, or to be disturbed by the site & encouraged by the outrage towards it. Maybe one day I’ll be able to virtually “bag [my] billionaire boyfriend” to earn mucho “mula”.

Do you think that a “Himbo” version would ever be released? Why or why not?