The Display Name Conspiracy
08 April 2005
By far the most insidious feature of MSN Instant Messenger is the “Display Name” option. Perhaps the brainchild of a programmer with the goal of disrupting the social lives of teenagers worldwide, the “Display Name” option allows MSN Instant messenger (MSN from here on out) users to set a “friendly name” or nickname that others can use to identify them by besides the generally cryptic email address.
Useful right? Sure to an extent, as “Danny” is alot easier to remember and identify than some email address. The problem is with the character limit. 129 characters. Who on earth needs a simple, identifying name that long? Do give you an idea of how long that is? Here is a typical name you would find on a teenagers contact list: “ow how my body aches 4 ur touch. ur intoxicating 2 my senses. if only u wuld evar sumtim look @ me 2 kno i exist cuz i luv u :‘’(” The majority of those reading this just read something familiar and unsurprising. The rest of you most likely spouted some exclamation along the lines of “WTF?!” The MSN IM display name has become a community sidewalk or billboard for angst filled teens to chalk or spraypaint their pent up emotions and express their suicidal tendencies in 129 characters or less. The result of a lifetime of media conditioning by Hollywood, marketers who get paid to manipulate teens, and bands with minimal musical talent who “integrate unenthusiastic melodramatic 17 year olds who don’t smile, high pitched overwrought lyrics and inaudible guitar rifts with tight wool sweaters, tighter jeans, itchy scarves (even in the summer).” A full analysis of this plague sweeping adolescents is beyond the scope of this document.
Even the absurdity of the variety of names one might encounter on MSN is not the specific intent of this document. Rather, to concentrate on the adverse effects that the MSN Display name has on the user and those who see the name. To state it matter-of-factly these “friendly names” precipitate an atmosphere of doubt, confusion, and misinterpretation among friends. Names like the one demonstrated above do not fall into this category. They are childish and very transparent in nature. A desperate cry for attention in the most obnoxious way possible. The latter type of nickname, however conceals it’s message beneath or between levels of metaphor, undefined pronouns, and incomplete thoughts. They subtly hint to emotions or thoughts that the ‘namer’ would not say outright.
Those who have such a person on their contact list (who doesn’t?) will see this cryptic name and wonder what it means. Now enters the factor of the ‘viewer’s relationship with the namer. The closer the viewer is to the namer OR the greater their relationship OR the type of relationship the namer and viewer share - all affect how the viewer interprets the “message.” In some cases the “message” really is not a message at all, yet they interpret it as such. “Why else would someone set such a thought provoking name, if not to convey some message?” This type of (unconscious) thought is the precursor to misgivings.
Impromptu Closure: Why must we communicate secretly, and ambiguously? If you want to say something don’t equivocate! Unless, heaven forbid, your intention is precisely to befuddle and frustrate.
yes i am guilty of all i just ranted about. such hypocrisy.