Sean - thank you for your really thought-provoking post about networking sites as heterotopias. It reminded me of an article that ran in the New Yorker last month about Megan Meier, a thirteen-year-old girl who became Myspace-involved with a boy named Josh Evans, unaware that “Josh” was, as the author of the article puts it, “an online Frankenstein’s monster” (shades of Patchwork Girl) constructed by neighborhood girls, ostensibly as a way of keeping tabs on Meier’s online activities. (Some unscrupulous adults may have been involved as well – the case remains open.) After a vicious online “insult war” among Meier, some friends, and the girl posing as “Josh” – a war that ended with “Josh” saying, “You’re a shitty person, and the world would be a better place without you in it” – Meier hanged herself in her closet with an Old Navy belt.
The article, by Lauren Collins, touches on what I think hinders us from treating Facebook and Myspace as heterotopian spaces:
“On MySpace, and on other social-networking sites, such as Friendster and Facebook, a person can project a larger, more confident self, a nervy collection of favorite music, books, quotations, pleasures, and complaints. He or she, able to play with different personas, is released from some of the petty humiliations of being a middle-schooler—all it takes to be a Ludacris fan is a couple of keystrokes.”
When we create Facebook/Myspace identities, we retain some of our real selves, discard the parts we don’t like, and maybe add a little wishful thinking, projecting not our best self, but our ideal self, indeed, our utopian self. On Facebook/Myspace, we can exist “in a perfected form,” as Foucault writes. Megan Meier believed in her utopian identity, she perpetuated the illusion as a way of coping with the reality of her actual self. As “Megan Babi” on Myspace, she could forget her depression and her issues with her body weight and her general adolescent malaise – she could even attract a hot boy! But Facebook and Myspace are not utopias: they are Foucault’s any/every/nowheres, and in Meier’s case the conflict between the reality and the fantasy was brutal.
Obviously, Megan Meier’s case is exceptional, but I think it sheds some light on our strange relationship with our seductive hybrid cyber-selves.