In response to the Megan Meier story that broke this past week I wanted to write something about what I think being online means. I also want to confess to more than a little curiosity about the process of how a given story becomes newsworthy. I want to know why various media outlets do or do not cover a given story, and in what manner. The coverage of this story from the St. Charles Journal and the Chicago Tribune are quite disparate.
I don’t think being on the Internet is an all-or-nothing sort of thing. Maybe that’s a perspective I’ve come to from working and playing on the Internet in various ways for the last few years. Like many of my friends, I am rather leery of the proliferation of social networking sites. The first one I joined was Six Degrees in the late 90s. I did not enjoy it, and cannot say that I have taken advantage of any more since then. I have had invitations for MySpace, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, Facebook, Classmates.com, Flickr, 43things, Last.fm and Twitter. I have declined all of these save Flickr. Maybe it is more a reflection of an introverted side of my personality, but I guess I see the Internet primarily as academic, a communication medium to exchange ideas, rather than primarily social, a communication medium to exchange phone numbers.
(I’m now worrying I’m sounding overly arrogant or bombastic, so I apologize if that’s the case. I don’t mean to.) Are some people predisposed to finding the predominant definition of themselves in the opinions of others? Is that the essential allure to social networking? Is it a predisposition to voyeurism? Is it a reaction to isolationism? As my friend, John, said the Internet provides for a much wider audience. Is the appeal there that with a broader audience I’m able to find more people like me than I normally would at my school, or in my hometown?
I’m not saying the Megan Meier story is not a sad one. It is. It is a sad story. I think what I’m saying is that this is not a necessarily new sad story. People can and will be cruel to other people. I think that the Internet gives people a longer reach to do just that. I guess I’m just struggling with answering the question: Why is this news? The cynic in me keeps crying that this is news because it is sexy. The Internet is shiny and mysterious, ambiguous and (seemingly) essential, pervasive and adaptable. — Sounds like the perfect monster to me. That condition has me thinking that the Megan Meier story is the new boogeyman horror story. (Parallel thought, it does not surprise me that one of the more recent Stephen King novels, Cell, is a zombie story about cellphones.)
I’d like to hope that this is news for some other reason. I’m just having trouble seeing what that might be.