MILSTEIN: Making friends beyond Facebook

Freshman Voices

Even before we took our first steps on Old Campus, we, the members of the class of 2017, already knew one another like old friends. From the moment decisions were released, we have become engrossed in a morass of virtual networks with our classmates — from Facebook groups to roommate message threads and Instagram feeds. We now know who among us are chatty, who traveled to Hawaii this summer, who watches Pokémon and who plays bridge. However, there is a danger in acquainting ourselves via the Internet. By allowing online profiles to be the currency of our first impressions, we potentially complicate our transition to this new environment.

When decisions were released in December and March, upperclassman administrators invited accepted students to join the Yale Class of 2017 Facebook group. With over 1,500 members, the group is often a helpful portal for sharing information and answering questions. However, the commentary has extended beyond the typical “Is there a schedule for orientation?” or “What is Yale’s policy on AP scores?”

For a small minority of particularly gregarious classmates, the group has appeared to become a personal soundboard and an opportunity to share their every thought. This crop of pseudo-Facebook celebrities dominates the group by uploading “selfies,” ranting about irrelevant topics, sharing overemotional platitudes or humble-bragging about their extensive resumes. One frenzied student even posted six paragraphs about his fear of being a non-coffee drinker. This post and other similarly outlandish comments have been shared more widely by Accepted2017.com, a website that “catalogues the crazy stuff people say in college admissions Facebook groups.”

In some sense, I admire my classmates’ trust in a group of people they’ve not yet met. Our Facebook group has served as a foundation for class unity and school pride.

Yet there’s a greater risk — rather than fairly reflecting the diversity of the class, our first impressions of Yale are rooted in comments made by a select few. By becoming too familiar with a small, often awkward, minority of students, we are given a false sense of introduction, which is arguably worse than not knowing our classmates at all.

Another concern that has emerged is the added pressure to shape our online image. The grooming that we undertake in the weeks leading up to college is not unlike the effort we put into our applications a few months earlier; we aim to present the best possible us. Instead of essays and transcripts, we use profile pictures, “muploads” and posts as our means of evaluation.

When housing assignments were released, a large portion of the class, myself included, rushed online to search for our future roommates. Our curiosity immediately led us to make snap judgments on their character based on things as arbitrary as their choice of cover photo. Rather introducing ourselves through a personal letter, as was the convention not too long ago, or even in person, we rely on self-curated pages that give a highly one-dimensional image of who we truly are. Facebook stalking has become such a normalized part of our routine that we no longer shy away from admitting this behavior. In fact, it would be even more shocking if someone waited until move-in day to match names to faces. Although instantaneously gratifying, this culture sets a harmful precedent of forming relationships based solely on appearance. While many students may enter school with “friends” due to social networking in the months prior, developing meaningful bonds is more difficult than simply hitting an accept button.

Our class is not unique in this respect, though: Social media, and its challenges, have come to define our generation. It was inevitable that our online behavior would shape our adjustment to college as well. Yet as we enter our first weeks and meet hundreds of individuals, we must be even more determined to move beyond the confines of a computer screen. While our virtual connections may have come first, it is the human connections that will last.

Larry Milstein is a freshman in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at larry.milstein@yale.edu.

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