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The Hyperreal Generation

The MySpace Generation: Sad, Lonely and Desperate

(06 October 2007)

So, have you signed up to MySpace, Facebook, Bebo or Friendster yet? What is it about these social networking sites that people find so compelling? As with most contemporary phenomena, the answer lies in the extraordinary philosophy of the late Jean Baudrillard. His great insight was that humanity has been steadily replacing reality with signs of reality, leading to the creation of what he described as hyperreality, the ‘more real than real’.

Advertising best illustrates the process. Take the recent Virgin Media advertising campaign featuring Uma Thurman. Thurman’s image is one of supreme coolness (whether she’s cool in reality is another matter). So, the idea is that by linking a sign of coolness (Thurman) with Virgin Media then Virgin Media becomes cool too and people will feel compelled to purchase its services. This campaign is conducted entirely at the sign level. Thurman probably has little connection with her screen image, probably doesn’t use Virgin Media services, probably couldn’t care less about the company, and surely a company can’t become cool just because a ‘cool’ person is paid a fortune to say that it is. You don’t hear Virgin Media talking about the reality of its business operations: poor customer service, technical unreliability, expensive products, limited programming output (of inferior quality), no discernible advantages over comparable services offered by rivals. Virgin Media wants us to consider its hyperreality and definitely not its reality. We’re supposed to swallow its self-chosen propaganda signs as accurately describing the truth of the company rather than its real, measurable performance.

Advertising relies on our willingness to privilege signs of reality over reality. This process has accelerated in the last few years, driven by the unholy alliance of advertising, internet, TV, 24/7 news, tabloid newspapers, Hollywood and celebrity culture. All around us is a sea of signs, and these signs are disconnected from what they’re supposed to signify. (If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be a Virgin Media subscriber, you know for sure that it’s not and never will be cool.)

This brings us back to social networking. The essence of these sites is that your friendships must be visible to everyone else, indeed to the whole world. It’s not the friendships themselves that are important (i.e. the reality of friendship), but the fact that everyone can see who all of your friends are, how ‘cool’ they are, what they do, how much they like you and how many you have (i.e. the hyperreal signs of friendship).

The MySpace generation are the first hyperreal generation and have lost all contact with reality. A couple of decades ago, a friendship would have been considered an essentially private matter, something to be treasured, and certainly not paraded in public as if it were a cheap status symbol. A friend was someone you could confide in, a person to whom you could reveal your true, hidden self. Trust, discretion, and even a certain exclusivity were all required. These qualities are destroyed when they’re flaunted on the internet. Everything that defines friendship has been lost, replaced by the desperate plea, ‘Look, I have friends – no, really – and these are who they are and this is how many I have.’ Only a member of the hyperreal generation could find any pleasure in being stuck on a hundred MySpace profiles, their photo forlornly staring out from web pages under headings of the ilk, ‘Mike CoolGuy has 68 friends.’

Nietzsche, one of Baudrillard’s primary influences, said, ‘We have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world.’ This could easily be applied to the MySpace generation. Their measure of value is determined by the rules and conventions of social networking: a simulated reality, a fiction, a world of signs signifying nothing.

No one pays to subscribe to these social networking sites, so how are they funded? The answer is advertising. Social networking is nothing but an opportunity for advertisers to reach a particular, lucrative demographic. The users of these sites exist to feed the advertising machine. They see themselves as cool, trendy, fascinating individuals. In fact, they are mindlessly conformist marionettes being yanked around by the capitalist puppet masters. The founders of these social networking sites have become multi-millionaires. If you’ve ever heard them speak, you’ll know they’re pitch-perfect in the language of big business.

The people who flock to social networking sites are often the same people who protest about the war in Iraq, Global Warming, Animal Rights, G8 abuses, all the ‘right on’ causes. Yet there they are feeding the voracious advertising industry, helping to create the finest billionaire capitalists. In other words, they’re doing everything required of them to sustain the capitalist military/industrial complex that they oppose so vehemently. This is the beauty of hyperreality. Capitalism, by judicious use of signs, can manipulate its opponents into doing its precise bidding, while managing to convince them they’re doing the opposite.

The truth is staring us in the face. Social networking is for losers. None of the users of these sites has any really friends. They are naïve and clueless individuals lacking any comprehension that they’re being cynically exploited by advertisers, and that their real, and indeed only, function is to create another handful of super-rich individuals.

Sad, lonely, and desperate – that’s the MySpace generation. They’re trapped in hyperreality, much as the unknowing masses were trapped inside The Matrix. But no Neo, no Saviour, will be coming along to free them.

If you want to be a real person living in the real world, the first thing you must do is get off the grid. Take the first brave step and delete your MySpace profile. After all, you surely wouldn’t want the words carved on your headstone to be: ‘I was registered with MySpace. I had 101 online friends (and I even knew a few of them). My current mood is: Sad.’

(Final note to all the cool dudes hanging out on MySpace - Rupert Murdoch, the unacceptable face of capitalism, is the owner of MySpace. Ever feel like you've been swindled? Isn't it time you woke up?)