It was the summer before college began. To many, it may have felt like thesummer before our lives were to begin. If the Pierson College GroupMe’s activity was any indication, we incoming first years were excited, if not a bit nervous, to begin college. Of course we were! While we feared leaving the known behind, we could hardly wait for the long, summer days to end so that our new lives could start. We were curious about all the opportunities and people that we would meet in the coming months. We may have wanted to be somewhat prepared for everything in our future. We did not want to have regrets.
A decade or two ago, those exciting feelings would have been met with increased reflection and imagination of the times to come, a close study of the physical Blue Book or perhaps a wait for the moment a letter would come in the mail to reveal one’s suitemates. In our era, between working and resting on hot summer days, we had access to a great source of information about everything Yale: the Internet.
Online, we incoming first years could easily find details about our future student life and classmates. We could spend hours looking through website pages of clubs, courses on Yale Course Search and social media profiles of our future classmates. We could chat incessantly in the class GroupMe and share the floor plans of our dorm with each other, trying to imagine what our common room will look like and how it will be to walk through our entryway each day. We could read old columns in the News, trying to imagine what our everyday lives would be like.
Having such information is a privilege of living in the internet age. Or is it a pitfall?
The online Yale experience could be endless and addicting. One could spend hours of seeing Yale through these many virtual facets: Did they mean anything? Did surplus details helpfully preface the coming years, or create unnecessary expectations and anxieties?
We experienced the extracurricular fair. We have chosen our classes. We have met a hundred new people, and new experiences have come our way every day. Now that we’re here, all the hours back home seem far, far away. Nights alone in front of the computer are a distant memory; for many, the mere two weeks we’ve spent here now feels like a month. Anything that we saw on the Internet was only an approximation of reality, an approximation of what the full Yale Experience is like, in the same way that watching a concert on YouTube only approximates the experience of being there, or playing a video game in a fantasy world only simulates the experience of existing there. Friending classmates on Facebook and looking through their high school posts does not compare to meeting up in a friend’s suite and talking to one another about our lives. Seeing the joyful photos of a singing group’s website is not the same as the rush of excitement when auditioning and singing with a group.
Digital approximations can have real consequences. When, before Yale, we lost ourselves in some ideal of the future, we missed out on spending time with friends whom we may never see again, on that last summer in our hometown. We spent less quality time with family, for the last time before being “guests” in the home.
Still, now that we are finally here, we are in the midst of that period where everything is interesting. Every new classmate is fascinating. These are feelings that we will only experience once: We will only live through first few weeks of college one time. There will be a time when we are no longer excited about every email that pops up in our EliApps account. In these moments we are learning so much about this place every day, and through the next four years, we will never know so little about Yale again. This is real life — not the Internet.