This essay about the class division underlying the Facebook/MySpace divide has been linked all over. The basic claim is this:
The goodie two shoes, jocks, athletes, or other “good” kids are now going to Facebook. These kids tend to come from families who emphasize education and going to college. They are part of what we’d call hegemonic society. They are primarily white, but not exclusively. They are in honors classes, looking forward to the prom, and live in a world dictated by after school activities.
MySpace is still home for Latino/Hispanic teens, immigrant teens, “burnouts,” “alternative kids,” “art fags,” punks, emos, goths, gangstas, queer kids, and other kids who didn’t play into the dominant high school popularity paradigm. These are kids whose parents didn’t go to college, who are expected to get a job when they finish high school. These are the teens who plan to go into the military immediately after schools. Teens who are really into music or in a band are also on MySpace. MySpace has most of the kids who are socially ostracized at school because they are geeks, freaks, or queers.
I’m on both networks but it’s not obvious to me whether this is true, since I’m outside of the relevant demographic—I just don’t know that many teenagers online or off. There is a clear divide between which of my friends are on which network, but it’s much more due to their different origins: for the most part, my friends who are still in academia are on Facebook, and the rest are on MySpace.
Since I joined Facebook roughly a year ago (I was already on MySpace) I’ve considered it to have a couple of clear advantages. One is that from a design standpoint it’s vastly superior: it’s much easier to navigate, and easier to keep track of developments in one’s social network. (I’m one who really likes the News Feed.) Meanwhile it takes loading two or three pages to do anything on MySpace, and that’s assuming the user doesn’t just encounter a random error in the process.
The second point in favor of Facebook is the fact that it doesn’t make my eyes bleed when I read it. The visual layout is clean and simple, in direct contrast to the garish hideousness of MySpace, even before users take the opportunity to crowd their profiles with so many animated GIFs that they induce seizures. I invite you to go to just the front page of MySpace, where an advertisement for the Bratz movie has apparently been loaded into a shotgun and fired at the background.
But, as the essay points out, this preference just reveals my bourgeoise values:
Most teens who exclusively use Facebook are familiar with and have an opinion about MySpace. These teens are very aware of MySpace and they often have a negative opinion about it. They see it as gaudy, immature, and “so middle school.” They prefer the “clean” look of Facebook, noting that it is more mature and that MySpace is “so lame.” What hegemonic teens call gaudy can also be labeled as “glitzy” or “bling” or “fly” (or what my generation would call “phat”) by subaltern teens. Terms like “bling” come out of hip-hop culture where showy, sparkly, brash visual displays are acceptable and valued. The look and feel of MySpace resonates far better with subaltern communities than it does with the upwardly mobile hegemonic teens. This is even clear in the blogosphere where people talk about how gauche MySpace is while commending Facebook on its aesthetics. I’m sure that a visual analyst would be able to explain how classed aesthetics are, but aesthetics are more than simply the “eye of the beholder” – they are culturally narrated and replicated. That “clean” or “modern” look of Facebook is akin to West Elm or Pottery Barn or any poshy Scandinavian design house (that I admit I’m drawn to) while the more flashy look of MySpace resembles the Las Vegas imagery that attracts millions every year. I suspect that lifestyles have aesthetic values and that these are being reproduced on MySpace and Facebook.
The author has a point here. What I’m praising Facebook for above is essentially enforcing its users to follow a conformist, generic white-bread design template, resulting in exactly the blandness one would expect. Pottery Barn, indeed. No wonder the more artistic types prefer MySpace. Now if only its interface weren’t such a trainwreck…