What makes MySpace unique, along with other sites based on the same concept, such as Last.fm, is their unique and revolutionary service of popular culture broadcaster (so far, mainly music) relying on the technology of the Web 2.0. They link social networking and self-representation, and the prominent place of popular culture in identity formation and social interaction. However, these new services greatly destabilize the traditional grounds on which the cultural industries are organized, especially in terms copyright and licenses. This is a phase of transition for the cultural industries and while very few people contest the interest of social networks for the creative industries, intense debates are going on to try to reach a point of equilibrium between the different actors. MySpace in particular has the function of the aggregator of cultural products but also encourages the publishing of user-generated content, of which legal status is not very clear (public/private domain). Also, users now have the technologies to easily express their creativity by editing and remixing pieces of popular culture, a practice which poses its own set of legal issues (Lilley. 2006).
However, the emergence of this new type of media poses other, maybe more crucial questions. As other Information and Communication Technologies, the web 2.0 has a more and more important place in the socialization process, especially for children and teenagers. Although MySpace is a virtual space, real and meaningful social relationships take place within it. If a 12 years-old girl can’t log onto MySpace for material reason (she does not have access to a computer, neither at home nor at school), she is prevented from participating in the social life from which her other friends benefits and is likely to be quickly somehow excluded from the group. Plus, as Henry Jenkins and others point out in a recent White Paper (2007), engaging in the web 2.0 allows the acquisition of technical and mental skills that are valued in today’s workplace and that are of great importance for a full conception of citizenship in the modern age. Denouncing a widening “participation gap”, they propose that the educational system embrace these new opportunities to make young people both aware and critical of the impact of media on their lives, but also equipped with the appropriate tools to express their subjectivity in meaningful ways in the “participatory culture”.
MySpace and the like are part of a revolution; a revolution that brings new ways of thinking about ourselves, new ways of communicating with each other, and new ways to consume popular culture. So far, most of these ventures have been a commercial success, in spite of the many criticisms that have been addressed to these endeavors. As with every revolution still in process, it is unsure what the final consequences of the development of online social networks will be. Still, as citizens, we must recall that any technology is only as good as the use that is made of it. While being aware of the ethical problems that MySpace and its consorts might bring, we must try to influence the current reshaping of certain social and legal relations that they originate so as to make them beneficial for the whole society. We should try to promote richer ways of identity expression and possibly more authentic relationship with artists and creators.
Photo on Flickr by Joits under Creative Commons License.