SAN DIEGO--Teen breakups have never been particularly mature, but they've certainly evolved in terms of delivery. In the '80s, a teenager might have delivered the decisive blow by passing a soon-to-be-ex a note in class. In the '90s, he or she might have left a message on the person's answering machine. Now, teens are known to leave the breakup note in the scroll of MySpace page comments of their former sweetheart. That way, all of their friends can see.
That's what Danah Boyd, a doctoral candidate in the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley, has found in her studies of teen behavior online. Speaking here Wednesday at the ETech conference, Boyd said that teens today know that whatever they say in e-mail or voice mail can be reproduced, repurposed and warped in some way. So in response, kids will publicize their breakup on the girlfriend's or boyfriend's MySpace page for everyone to read, she said.
"By breaking up through MySpace comments, the heartbreaker is attempting to assert their view for everyone else to see so that they cannot be accused of saying something else in private," Boyd wrote in a research paper on the subject.
Still, there's a downside. "Of course, while digital expressions are persistent, they can be obliterated in a matter of clicks by a heartbroken lover. By deleting a significant other from one's friend list, all of the comments evaporate," she said.
More than strategy, public MySpace breakups seem to be a signature of a generation coming of age online. For today's teens, nothing seems to be private in the ways that previous generations would consider vital--not pictures, diaries, videos, personal tragedy and certainly not the details of heartbreak. "While the online publicness of teen relationships horrifies many adults, it is central to most teens," Boyd wrote.