When the telephone was the big thing for keeping in touch, protocol was fairly clear: no non-emergency calls past 10 p.m. and leave clean messages on the household answering machine. But as the Internet muscles in on the phone's territory with cool stuff like MySpace, the old rules don't apply.
MySpace is the second hottest destination on the Web. Invitations to join friend lists drop into the inbox as often as porn solicitations.
Asking someone, "Are you on MySpace?" is becoming the new "Can I get your phone number?"
With so much activity, and so little restraint, it's hard to keep the social network of more than 73 million members behaving. The commenting, posting and blogging has molded MySpace protocol into a kiss-and-tell universe where the pinky swear is meaningless.
It's hip to sit and type to pre-approved friends in the new-fangled LOL/TTYL message-speak.
This offers you a certain amount of protection. But even if you don't post your secrets and desires, a "friend" could, throwing your carefully balanced social circle into chaos.
Most MySpacers sweat their pores dry about the comments section. That's the oft-viewed place where you can read someone's non-private profiles, on which any of the member's thoughtless and mischievous - yet approved - friends can leave text or pictures (incriminating, embarrassing or otherwise).
For damage control, users monitor their comments to weed out any "for your eyes only" information that they don't want seen by their mother, history teacher, best friend, best ex-friend, girlfriend, girl-they-sort-of-like-who-works-at-the-Loop, or any other person keeping up with their life via MySpace.
That's smart. Jealous and snooping types use the comments sections to search for ammunition to fuel their paranoia.
Imagine the trouble in store for a girl whose insecure boyfriend sees a picture on her space that shows her arm-in-arm with some dude she met at the club last week. Most postings can seem calculating, controversial or deceptive when seen through the eyes of a spurned lover scouring your page. And spurned lovers are scouring your page. They live for it.
The other source of MySpace cyber-quarrels is a member's "Top Friends" list.
The eight coveted spots there can be shuffled at the user's will, and spaces are generally bestowed upon the nearest, dearest and hottest friends on the roster.
Friends who think they are near, dear or hot don't take kindly to being relegated to the Page 2 peanut gallery.
Failing to maintain your page with regularity is a MySpace no-no, as well.
Just wait and see how long it takes for the girl you went out with twice to ask why your MySpace profile still says "single."
Going too long without responding to new friend requests will bruise some egos, too. And don't dare get behind on reading a high-maintenance friend's blog.
She'll stick you as the "person least likely to respond to this questionnaire" on those get-to-know-you bulletins she keeps posting.
MySpace is fun but tricky. It brings people together, then tears them apart.
The rules are shaky, and though it is your little space, lots of people can walk on through and leave it quite a mess.