It is billed as "a collective experiment in brand perception", so while the big themes jump out at you in startlingly large fonts, there is much comedy to be had reading the small print (such as this one for McDonald's: would rather fist f*ck myself in the ass with a porcupine )
Last Sunday's Observer featured an interview with John Cameron Mitchell, the director of Shortbus. Among musings on Republican America, the acceptability of the three-hour S&M-athon that is 'The Passion of the Christ', the condemnation of Janet Jackson's nipple, and how the portrayal of honest, real, on-screen sexual intimacy differs from pornography, Mitchell touches on 'social media', and the effects it can have:
'The internet and all this new technology, these opportunities for connection, are at the same time opportunities to be bombarded into numbness... the YouTube, MySpace phenomenon is an example of people reaching out, desperate for intimacy.'
The dangers of those connections, he suggests, are that they offer 'a palliative, a sugar high' and create an addiction to constant newness. 'Kids are afraid now of the lag in between checking their email. You lose sight of the fact that you have to get down to get up, that you have to have boredom in a relationship in order to get to the next step.'
What all that suggests, he believes, and what his film makes clear, is that 'it's a natural human requirement actually to look into someone's eyes at close quarters, open yourself up. You don't get that from looking at a computer screen. Our reactions to that, anomie, alienation, depression, are symptoms of the mind telling us we have to change.'
I understand his point, but I can also see the clear benefits of social media and online interaction -it allows people to be part of a community, irrespective of their location. For young people, and those with niche interests, this is a godsend. MySpace satisfies a fundamental need for human connection, and its success is testament to the ubiquity and power of that need.
People need to have friends as well as 'friends'. Because, really, 'Second Life' is no substitute for real life.