A Hyper-Realistic Existence

A new Internet fad has arrived and the admission ticket is likely sitting in your deleted e-mail. Remember a spammish-looking "Invitation to join Friendster" that you were above opening? While you were busy spending Friday night alone again, the already popular matchmaking site was exploding with artists, miscreants, and all sorts of "fakesters" (fictitious Friendster users) joining the ranks of the romantically challenged and creating a communal phenomenon that's side-splittingly funny.

The site is built upon the Six Degrees of Separation principle: the idea that a person is connected to almost anybody else through a series of five friends. When you join Friendster, you surf through your circle of friends, then their friends, and so on.

Reading profiles and wandering the sometimes weird paths that unite acquaintances can become a voyeuristic addiction. From a dating perspective, testimonials written by mutual friends guarantee that the intended isn't a fruitcake. Unless that's your turn-on, of course. Soon, a blind date is arranged and everyone is happy ... except maybe the fakesters.

An odd combination of wanting anonymity and attention fuels the fakester agenda. Members spend inordinate amounts of time birthing their own delusory beings. Long-dead intellectuals carry on relationships with giant squid. Foul-mouthed parakeets run for president. Literary characters, political theories, and robots run rampant in a database that numbers around 1.8 million members, and each day welcomes more. For some, being Lysander Spooner or Dr. Doom provides an extra layer of comfort while subtly communicating facets of their personalities. For many the thrill is about being eye-catching. For others it's the challenge of creating a perfectly phony profile. The result is a cheery meta-artwork full of socially relevant commentary.

Ironically the fakesters contribute a layer of truth. Only a naive handful believe that charlatans are the actual celebrities they say they are. (Though one confirmed celeb boldly uses her real name, thanks to five fakester clones.) Even fewer believe any profile is free of exaggerations. However, listing celebrities in your passel of acquaintances reveals an aspect of your personality that naming 1970s lesbian singing legend Meg Christian as your favorite artist doesn't quite accomplish. So what's the harm in blatant lies?

Although they violate the user agreement, fakesters adhere to the Friendster spirit of joining the like-minded. Still the Website's creators are vocal in their disdain for the faux friendsters and purge them despite the publicity they generate. In response, the exiled fakesters have organized their own mail lists (groups.yahoo.com/group/FriendsterRevolution ) and Websites (fakesters.netfirms.com/, www.enemyster.com) and throw real-life get-togethers. Some even execute pranks on Friendster by creating new fakesters as quickly as they are deleted. All to the increasing amusement of their fans.

So dust off that invite and check out the fakester fun before it's over.

Friendster.com is in "beta-testing," which means it's still buggy and often inaccessible, but all aspects remain free. It can be found at www.friendster.com.

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Margaret Griffis