Who’s Going to be the One to Tell the Web Site?

I keep thinking about that scene in Short Cuts when Ann Finnigan (Andie MacDowell) orders a really complicated and special cake for her son’s birthday. Before she’s able to pick it up, and before his actual birthday, her son is hit by a car and killed. Andy Bitkower (Lyle Lovett) bakes the cake and takes great care in its creation. Once he realizes that the cake isn’t going to be claimed and paid for, he begins to call the woman who ordered it. He leaves message after message. Eventually, his messages become more and more angry. She is upset. He is upset. She’s grieving and angry. From her point of view, his actions are completely out of line while his thoughts are fueled by cynicism. He just wants someone to compensate and appreciate him for his hard work. I found I understood both points of view, which is why it was so hard to watch.

I joined Friendster about 5 years ago because Katrina told me about it. Two weeks ago, someone I work with brought up the online community. His voice was filled with cynicism. He brought up MySpace, LiveJournal, Blogger and Friendster and while I have a blog, I am also very much in the dark on how the blog communities are run and the tools one uses to make it all happen. My husband built this Web site. While the subject matter may seem typically blog-like, the software behind it is 100 percent unique. In that respect, there is no other Web site like it.

My coworker wanted to know what these online communities were like and why they were so popular. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really answer his question. I don’t even know how to use Moveable Type, let alone all the tools that come with it. I don’t have any idea how LiveJournal works. All I know is that once you’re linked on one LiveJournal Web site, you seem to get a bunch of referrers with the words “Friend” and “LiveJournal” somewhere in the url.

I have been told that MySpace is really great for musicians. And I told my coworker that. I also mentioned that MySpace seems to take a lot of abuse from shows like 20/20 and Dateline especially when they profile pedophiles, rapists, and 65-year-old fat guys who like to find young college girls to talk to. I know that can’t be said for all MySpace users out there, but as an outsider, it really does seem like that the most heinous sex crimes are committed by or against those with MySpace accounts.

A lot of online communities and how they work are completely foreign to me. But I am still technically on Friendster. The day after I found out that Katrina died; I started to get pictures together for her memorial service. For reasons I’m still unsure of, I decided to visit Friendster. I found her profile again and decided to print it out. It featured all her favorite books, bands, TV shows, and movies. I did learn more about her that day, things I may have otherwise overlooked had she not recently passed away. For example, I had no idea that her favorite show was Alias. Sure, this information was interesting, but it pretty much just made me cry again.

That was the day I realized that Friendster – a mere Web site – would probably never learn that Katrina had passed away without human intervention. And all her peripheral online friends wouldn’t know either. She might receive messages and they would go unanswered. She would probably get email and it would go unanswered, too. That was the day also the day I stopped going to Friendster.

I briefly told my coworker why I stopped. I can’t go there anymore because I know she’ll be looking at me – her profile, her face – and I don’t like to see her profile as it once was, as if she’s still living person. Plus, what if she has a new testimonial? What if someone left a message about her death? A Web site can’t possibly comprehend what that actually means.

Today, I woke up early. I powered up my computer and then went to the bathroom to brush my teeth and pee. Once I finished, I walked back into the living room and sat down to check email. We were away all day yesterday, running errands and taking care of some family business. Therefore, I had to catch up on quite a bit. That’s when I saw it. I had received a new message from Friendster.

When Ann finally tells Andy Bitkower that her son is dead and that she’ll probably never, ever come to claim the cake, he is devastated. Suddenly, every phone call, and every message comes back to haunt him. You feel sorry for him all over again. Your sorrow never ran out for her.

Katrina died last year and shortly after the funeral, I received an email reminding me to send her a birthday message on the 17th of April. Rightly so, the email made me cry. And then I began to laugh because an email-sending bot made me cry.

Today, I woke up to that very same email.

(Happy [almost] Birthday, Katrina. You might be gone, but you’re not forgotten. Even the Friendster Bots are thinking about you.)

6 Comments

  1. I will defend LJ to the day I die, and I’m 33 and I have a life. Whenever I hear people slag on it – usually calling everyone on there self-obsessed teenagers – I tell them the same story, it always gets them to shut up.

    One time, I was working out of the new york office, and I threw my back out so badly I couldn’t move. I posted on my LJ that I needed Codeine badly, and couldn’t move to come get it.

    Within two hours, a beautiful girl who I had never met in person was at my office door with a bottle of 10 percocets. For free. She’s my friend to this day (you met her this week).

    Oddly and relevantly (I am sorry for your loss, by the way), LJ DOES actually handle deaths – the journals are migrated into a special status, upon notification by a friend or family, and are left online in memorium, but comments are disabled on all entries buy the last (as a sort of means of people leaving memories) and all notifications, such as the ones you speak of, are disabled.

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  2. The thing that bothers me about MySpace is what it looks like. As soon as people start messing with their pages with HTML and adding hideous wallpaper and the like, the site as a whole tends to resemble the web circa 1996, which is to say, bad, bad, bad geocities-hosted personal web pages of badness. My eyes!

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  3. Rick: I wonder if Frienster has that option. I bet that they do. As it were, I am too much of a pussy to even go check.

    Missy, I tend to do that, too. I get all turned off by bad design. If it doesn’t look good, I don’t stick around.

    I’m a shallow pussy, it would seem.

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  4. That Short Cuts plot is a Raymond Carver story entitled “A Small Good Thing.” You might want to check out his collection of stories “Cathedral” that includes that one and others.

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  5. Yep. I think I read each of them, actually. And I remember when Short Cuts came out a lot of us were pissed off because they split the stories up and put them in a different order from what Carver intended. Kinda funny.

    I used to absolutely love Carver. I still think of a few of his stories at least once a week. It’s weird. I’m not sure if it’s because they were actually great stories or if it’s because I read them during a time where I was young and changing (impressionable.) Either way, they stick with me to this day.

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  6. I always think about Flannery O’Connor stories. Her work has become a shorthand for Kerry and me. We can make each other laugh with a properly timed one-word allusion

    e.g. just this weekend K & I saw a rather large young woman of questionable mental capability running along the road behind someone. I simply looked at K and said “brrrrrddtt!” (a reference to “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”) and got a guffaw and smack for my efforts. The great thing about Flannery O’Connor is that she makes it easy to be so darn mean.

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