I think I take for granted how much technology defines my college experience.
The most glaring example of this is Facebook. Honestly, how did anything get done before Facebook? Broadcasting events, garnering support, marketing initiatives, party planning — it all takes place on Facebook. When my friends and I are trying to coordinate something — most recently a personalized and incredibly embarrassing song and dance performance for a friend’s birthday — we work out all the details on a Facebook message thread. It’s exhilarating to be able to stay in touch with so many people in one fell click.
As such, it’s easy for me to peg other generations’ college experiences as ridden with insularity because of their technological disadvantages. My mom tells stories about waiting to use the phone in her freshman dorm — one phone for an entire floor of girls. It seems unbelievable. No wonder Simon and Garfunkel sang “I am a rock / I am an island.” They couldn’t get a hold of anyone to hang out with. Even the late 1990s meant a landline, an answering machine and calling home to check voicemails from the nearest payphone. These examples are so foreign to me, so far from my own experience.
But that is not to say that I would mind the chance to try out college under those circumstances. In fact, for a long time I’ve been uneasy about the way Facebook has perverted how college students are introduced to one another. Before coming to college I remember joining the “Georgetown Class of 2012” Facebook group. It boasted hundreds of members constantly updating each other on their college plans, the latest news from the Hilltop and counting down the days until we’d all “meet” each other and embark on our four years of undergraduate glory. I was already “friends” with the girls living on either side of me before I had even packed up my bags for school. I watched them post photos from graduation parties and say heartfelt goodbyes to high school friends.
Now, with new features like the “See Friendship” button it seems like Facebook is intent on creating a digitalized picture of reality. It’s eerie how accurate and comprehensive it can be: The new feature documents when you became “friends” with someone, how you met them, what events you have attended together, the photos you’re in together. There is an ominous potential for the entire trajectory of a relationship to be documented across the Internet. Admittedly this online shrine could serve as a wonderful virtual scrapbook. But when I think about the fact that I can trace my Facebook activity back to when I was 15 it just seems horrifying — that is a quarter of my lifetime.
There is an ongoing discussion of the dangers of posting things to Facebook because of the possible threat to employment and education status. But there is less energy devoted to considering the detriment of relying on Facebook as a social crutch. Surely I am guilty of this: I hate to think of how many people I keep in touch with only through Facebook. Its convenience and ease are hard to beat, but I fear that it has made me lazy. I’m content to swap wall posts with my oldest friend from home rather than take the time to sit down and call her on the phone. Even sending her an email would show more of a vested interest on my part.
I don’t mean to vilify Facebook or technology in general. I would be lying if I said that I am entirely resentful of technology’s role in my life. Arguably my friendships in college have become that much stronger because in many ways, I am never without them. When I’m coming home from a lonely late night in the library all I need to do is pull up the group thread my housemates and I created using “What’s App” and tell them to meet me in the kitchen for cereal or cold pizza in five minutes. We share and create new jokes and memories all day every day and it’s hard to argue with that kind of accessibility and the sense of closeness it fosters.
In considering how one seeks to quantify a friendship — in text messages sent, wall posts exchanged, tagged photos, or events attended — I am relieved to know that technology will never tell the full story. My mom’s best and oldest friend is a woman she met her freshman year in college as they stood brushing their teeth in the girls’ bathroom. They went on to live together for the next three years and have kept up a friendship for decades. They exchange birthday gifts every year, and they don’t need Facebook to remind them. They have lived through births, deaths, promotions, job losses, marriages and divorces. No “See Friendship” page could ever come close to detailing all of that. I’m hoping my college friendships will be the same way.
Margaret Delaney is a junior in the College and a community member on The Hoya’s board of directors. She can be reached at [email protected]. I KNOW THIS MUCH IS TRUE appears every other Tuesday.
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