Friday, March 27, 2009

Rate Me

The most popular websites on the Internet these days are the ones that focus on user-generated content. Sites such as MySpace, Facebook, Digg, YouTube, CarDomain, LinkedIn, Orkut, LiveJournal, and Blogger are offering more than just "social networking;" they offer a chance for both friends and strangers to pass judgment about you and every aspect of your life. Thanks to the Internet, we have a growing population of kids and teens who are increasingly self conscious about what other people think of them.Attention Seeking Whores Desire Comments and Ratings in Every Aspect of their Lives
Let's say you sign up for an account with and post a few pictures of your car. Other users can sign your guestbook and tell you exactly what they think of your vehicle, good or bad. Most people don't sign up anticipating that they will receive a bunch of negative comments, but it can and does happen. You could work really hard on your car and make it exactly the way you like it. Then when you share it with the world, they might attack you. Now how do you feel about the car? How do you feel about yourself? Do you second-guess yourself or do you write them off as random Internet jerks?

Let's take it a step further and talk about the infamous Instead of ranking cars, you're ranking people. Yep, just a headshot or a picture of you will do. Post it on there and let the world vote for you based solely on your physical appearance. If you're beautiful it may boost your self-esteem to find yourself ranked highly, but at the same time, someone has to be at the bottom of the list as well. Unless you spend money on things like hair dye and plastic surgery, you're pretty much stuck with who you are. In the real world you wouldn't go around telling strangers if you find them attractive or not, but on the Internet it's more than okay - it is entertainment.

YouTube is a great way to show off your special talent to a worldwide audience. Whether it's playing the Super Mario theme on a musical instrument or a video of your best skateboarding tricks, the site can turn an ordinary person into an Internet celebrity overnight. There are also plenty of ways for people to cut you down through hurtful comments and video replies. What if you spent countless hours perfecting a song and everyone who watched your video said it was stupid, that it sucks, and that you have no talent? How would you feel about yourself then? Pretty awful, no doubt.

The king of all "social networking" sites is MySpace. On MySpace, users sign up and post everything from personal information about their job and their education to their private thoughts, pictures of friends and family, and information about their favorite books, movies, and music. It's like a living obituary of everything you'd ever want to know about a person. In fact it's very common for people to update their pictures when they buy a new car, move to a new house, get a tattoo, have a baby, or do something newsworthy.

In those situations, the voice of the global community is not far behind. There are profile comments, picture comments, video comments, and blog comments so everyone can tell you (and other viewers) exactly what they think of you. The surveys that people post and repost are even more intimate. Does the world need to know if you sleep with your clothes on or who the last person to text message you was? Do they want to know? Should you tell them? What judgments can a person make about you from the information you give? There's plenty of room for harsh ones.

The point is not to discourage people from having fun and sharing their interests online. The point is that now your entire life can be showcased on the Internet for all to see, to be commented on and voted for, starred, dugg, ranked, and rated in an infinite number of ways. This has given birth to a new generation of "attention whores" who have an uncontrolled desire for attention and approval. It leads to statements like "PLEASE comment my new pix" and "tell me what u think of my new haircut, shoes, girlfriend, boyfriend, tattoo, gun, car, or whatever." I wonder if the Internet is simply a gathering ground for the vain people of the world or if the Internet makes people excessively vain and self conscious?

It seems to me like some of these people's lives revolve around seeking the approval of "the community." There are now an infinite number of ways for the world to tell you what they think of you. It is easy to forget that the only thing which really matters is what YOU think of yourself, and not what other people think of you. If you like your car a certain color or your hair combed a certain way or a certain type of music, that's your personal choice. If your roommate or classmate or co-worker thinks your favorite band is lame, your best answer should be "Don't listen to them, then."

Maybe you've heard the popular saying that "opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one." Well, it's true. So here is my opinion: don't live your life by changing yourself and your values to get approval from other people, especially strangers and the Internet crowd. If you're not living your life for yourself, then who are you living for?

Just a quick disclaimer: the preceding statement does not mean I advocate going out and breaking laws if you believe in Anarchy. Please understand I am encouraging people to be nonconformist in safe and legal ways here. Use good judgement and common sense, and ALWAYS remember the Golden Rule: "Treat others as you wish to be treated." The bottom line is this: be yourself, but don't be an asshole, either.

I'm not the only one who feels this way: