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Talkin' 'Bout MySpace Generation

Courtesy of BreakPoint Online with Charles Colson

CBN.comWith the song "All by Myself" playing in the background, a teenage boy in the commercial confesses, "I skipped school just to do it. I wouldn't hang out with my friends. I have to admit, I was addicted." And then an announcer describes the symptoms of this "debilitating condition": MSA, or "MySpace Addiction." The fake commercial ends with a plug for a church youth group, "a place for real friends."

If you're 35 or older, the term MySpace probably does not register with you. But for many young people, this "social networking" website is the "place" to be. In just two years since it was launched, MySpace's membership has jumped from zero to 47.3 million.

The way MySpace.com works is this: Members, mostly between the ages of 14 and 34, develop a profile, offering information about themselves, as well as photos. Besides talking about themselves, members mainly spend their time visiting the pages of "friends," who, of course, are nearly all people they'll never meet in "real life." How should we as Christians think about this growing phenomenon?

First, MySpace poses safety concerns. Though the company tries to police it, there is plenty of profanity, obscenity, and explicit pictures. And kids divulge far too much personal information, which can put them in dangerous situations. For example, police in California and Connecticut are investigating crimes against girls under 16 committed by men they met on MySpace.

And then there's young peoples' sense of identity and community. As the Los Angeles Times puts it, sites like MySpace "are helping to spawn a generation of uninhibited liars." Not only are underage users lying about their ages, they're also embellishing, to say the least, who they really are.

While MIT sociologist and psychologist Sherry Turkle says this is part of adolescents' struggle for identity, experts believe sites like MySpace are "creating new forms of social behavior that blur the distinctions between online and real-world interactions." The MySpace generation, reports Business Week, "lives comfortably in both worlds at once"—the imaginary and the real world.

This destroys the ability to experience real community. Young people steeped in online cliques will find themselves unprepared "to encounter the common variety of mankind," as G. K. Chesterton put it. "The men of the clique," Chesterton wrote, "live together because they have the same kind of soul, and their narrowness is a narrowness of spiritual coherence and contentment, like that which exists in hell . . . "

By contrast to MySpace, the Church, when it operates as it should, throws us together with a vast array of individuals brought together for a common truth higher than ourselves. That compels us to associate with people we may not choose to otherwise—the aptly named MySpace does not.

As a dad, I urge moms and dads to talk with your kids. Tell them about the danger of living in a make-believe world. Otherwise, teens may become so lost in their own "cyberselves" and "cyberspace" that they never open up themselves to the "real friends" found in our communities and, more importantly, in Christ and His Church.


Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.

From BreakPoint, Copyright 2006 Prison Fellowship Ministries. "BreakPoint with Chuck Colson" is a radio ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission of Prison Fellowship, P.O. Box 17500, Washington, DC, 20041-0500." Heard on more than 1000 radio stations nationwide. For more information on the ministry of Chuck Colson and Prison Fellowship visit their web site at http://www.breakpoint.org.

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