Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Megan's Story

Megan had struggled with her self-esteem for much of her adolescent life. She'd had weight issues, and felt like she didn't fit in. In fact, throughout her seventh grade year in school, she felt like an outcast.

She transferred to a new school in eighth grade. Within three months, she had a new group of friends and felt like she belonged. She lost 20 pounds and joined the volleyball team.

And she had a boyfriend.

He was the cutest boyfriend she'd ever had. He was 16 and he had a pet snake. His name was Josh.

Josh said that his family had no telephone; Megan had no idea where he lived. Their sole means of communication was through MySpace.

Their relationship was a whirlwind of MySpace chatter over a number of weeks. Megan's mother was a little concerned--what parent wouldn't worry about her daughter developing, over MySpace, such a close relationship with an unseen boy? She asked a local law enforcement agent to try to find out whether or not Josh was legitimate, but there wasn't much he could do in the way of tracking Josh down (such is the anonymity built into MySpace).

But Megan's mother didn't worry too much. The boy was, after all, unseen-he presumably lived too far away to pose a physical threat to her daughter. And Megan was happy--happier, in fact, than she'd been in quite a long time.

Until suddenly, one day in October of 2006, a few months into Megan and Josh's relationship, Josh began to send Megan critical, scathing messages-messages criticizing Megan's treatment of her friends; messages expressing some doubt, on Josh's part, as to whether or not he wanted to continue the relationship (because of her poor treatment of her friends).

And then, on October 16, 2006, Josh sent a final message to Megan-a message that said, in part, "the world would be a better place without you."

Megan, sobbing ran to her bedroom closet, and emotionally broken, hung herself with a belt. He mother found her there a few moments later.

Megan Meier was 13 when she died, broken-hearted and confused, believing that a 16 year-old boy named Josh Evans, whom she loved, now hated her, and wished her dead.

Six weeks later, Mr. and Mrs. Meier, Megan's parents, found out that Josh didn't exist. He was a virtual alter ego created by Lori Drew, a woman who lived four houses down from the Meiers' whose daughter had felt shunned by Megan.

She created the fictitious MySpace profile, she confided in other neighbors, to "mess with Megan." And mess she did.

Mrs. Drew later said that she felt that the hoax had contributed to Megan's suicide, but that she didn't feel "as guilty" because she found out that Megan had talked of suicide before.

Then, in November of 2007, over a year after the horrific events (the hoax wasn't made public until recently at the request of FBI agents who were investigating the incident), when the Meiers began to tell their story, a blog popped up on the internet. The blog, called "Megan Had It Coming" purported to be authored by Lori Drew originally contained posts (the posts have since been replaced with a single, uninformative post, calling into question the blogs authenticity) called "Set The Record Straight", "Who's Really At Fault", and "I'm Lori Drew".

As I paged through the stories about Megan on the Internet (originally sent to me by perpetual reader, April), my heart went out to Megan's family. The pain that they feel must be unimaginable. And it must be exceptionally hard to see their daughter's death cheapened by the fact that the relationship that she took her own life over wasn't a real relationship at all; it was a hoax contrived by an angry, bitter acquaintance.

And I was incensed and angry at Mrs. Drew's apparent nonchalant attitude regarding the whole affair. I could not-and still cannot-bring myself to accept her clear disregard for the devastating consequences of her actions.

But my strongest, and most lasting, reaction is that this is an admittedly tragic and troubling example of the phenomenon that I spoke of in my original MySpace post.

I said, in part:

At times I fear that we'll ultimately become a society that's incapable of
functioning unless we're behind a computer monitor in some virtual world.
Another example of progressive technology rushing us right into the dark ages.


But, I'll do my part. I'll not partake. And maybe-just maybe, it'll catch on.
One here and one there will get tired of living that shallow, digital life, and will
re-emerge, blinking, rubbing their eyes, into the bright sunlight of this, the
real world, amazed that there is such depth out there! That's what I hope for!

The saddest part of this story is that-real or not-Megan took her own life over a boy she'd never physically met, whom she'd never actually spoken to, whom she'd even only known VIRTUALLY for a matter of weeks!

This virtual world has become the foundation--indeed the very fabric of--far too many relationships. Megan placed her entire self-worth, and apparently her total psychological well-being, in the hands of a phantom acquaintance.

Which brings us to the real-and startling-truth: that phantom relationship, in which she'd invested the whole of her emotions, was not a relationship at all. Because a relationship is something real, something almost tangible, something largely indefinable, that exists between two individuals. It's based, largely, on real connections, some physical, some emotional, some mental-but REAL connections, grounded firmly in reality and truth. In the absence of that reality and truth, without those connections, any semblance of true relationship is no more than a sad facade.

Megan's relationship, then, with Josh was no relationship at all, in that it was built on a surreal foundation; there was no truth, no reality, and consequently-regardless Megan's perceptions-no real relationship.

The most fearsome thing, though, is that every unseen acquaintance that one meets on MySpace results in no more than a phantom relationship. Because in the absence of those real connections, those inarguable realities, one can never be sure that all is what it seems. Those unfounded relationships are as weightless as air-able to be moved by the slightest gust of whim.

I am ever more convinced that MySpace relationships have all the substance of a balloon: seemingly full, but really consisting of nothing that can't be redirected with the most minimal effort, or that won't escape given the slightest bit of real pressure.

Those aren't the relationships that I'm looking for. I prefer the weightier, well-founded relationships, based on truth and reality; relationships that are immovable and impregnable to outside forces.

This, my friends, is why I grieve over MySpace

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