“I’m heading straight to the library, but I can totally Facebook you later if you want,” Neha Shah (COL ’17) said.
This was the response to an interview request for an article on social media and their effect on campus social life — one that made clear how second-nature all forms of social media are to our daily interactions.
According to a study by Study Breaks College Media, approximately 95 percent of college students in the United States use Facebook, while 40 percent of these students check the site at least six times a day. Of course, Facebook is just one of the many social networks that are widely used by students.
This generation takes social media for granted. By the time many college students got their first smartphones and computers, the first social-networking sites were already off the ground and on their way to becoming social phenomena.
Since the launch of Myspace, which arguably pioneered the social media movement in 2003, modern outlets for digital socialization have rapidly and powerfully expanded to include Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and relative newcomers YikYak and Tinder.
Social media are already fundamentally ingrained in everyday life both on and off campus, despite their relative youth.
But the question remains — is social media’s popularity at Georgetown for better or for worse?
Social media usage has expanded and evolved: Many Georgetown students see social media sites as tools for keeping up with people from their hometowns and high schools.
“I have friends at colleges all over the country, and it’s hard to be able to find time to talk to them. So, looking at their online accounts is a good way to stay in touch and to be able to see what’s going on in their lives,” Paige Hannah (MSB ’17) said.
Alexa DeAngelis (COL ’16) said that using social media has allowed her to maintain important relationships without distracting her from her life here on campus.
“I feel like [social media] enhance my social life just because of the way I use it. Most of the time, if I’m on Facebook it’s because I’m talking to a friend from home that I don’t get to see very often, or I’m organizing ways to get together with my friends here: not online, but in person,” DeAngelis said.
Mina Araz (COL ’17), an international student who is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, added that this benefit especially holds true on a global level.
“Some of my friends from high school in Turkey decided to go abroad for college, and the rest stayed in Turkey. Seeing their pictures and seeing what they are up to on Facebook is so convenient. It’s a great way to communicate,” Araz said.
Social networks add an unprecedented level of convenience to friendship. However, for new students who might be struggling with homesickness and yearning for familiarity, retreating to an online community can be a seemingly harmless escape with potentially damaging consequences.
“[Social media] can start off as a positive thing. I think it can start off as a way to bridge connections and get to know people. But, if people focus too much on social media, it can pull them out of the reality,” Conor Ross (COL ’16) said.
For Sebastian Hart (MSB ’17), however, social media were integral in helping him fully integrate into campus life. Hart, who transferred from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., thinks that social media can be useful tools in both maintaining old relationships and forging new ones.
“I think it’s really a way that people can connect to the community here while staying connected back home, but that’s not really as big a part of their life as it was when they were with those people on a regular basis,” Hart said.
Vicki Lam (NHS ’18) is also unworried about social media preventing her and her freshman peers from adjusting to on-campus life.
“In my experience, social media makes it more convenient to keep up with your old friends’ lives, but it’s also very helpful in making new connections here. Especially because I’m bad with names, and I need to put a face to a name when I first meet someone. So, Facebook is really helpful with that and with getting to know other people,” Lam said.
Beyond maintaining high-school friendships, social media have fulfilled certain needs in modern life, particularly in the realm of modern dating.
“There’s the whole guy-girl interaction,” Hart said. “If you ask for someone’s number, it might seem kind of forward. There’s definitely that connotation of asking for someone’s number. But, if I friend you the day after I meet you because I remember your name, it’s a lot more casual.”
This subtle distinction between texting and Facebook messaging appears to be a universal concept in this day and age.
“It will start on Facebook,” Araz said. “They start a conversation, and if one person asks for the other one’s number that would be a huge deal, like they are saying they are interested. In Turkey, guys do this all the time. They start talking on Facebook, and then, this is so cliche, they say, ‘One of the things I hate the most is talking through Facebook messenger.’ We both know what you’re trying to do, but us girls just go, ‘Yeah, haha, of course.’”
Beyond bringing two people closer together, social media are invaluable tools for students to coordinate events or organize their social lives. Busy students consider online notifications to be the best way to find out what is happening on campus and how best to spend their limited free time.
“A lot of getting integrated on campus is about going to events and meeting people with similar interests, so Facebook especially helps you know what events are happening, when and who’s running them. You can try to coordinate with your friends — invite them, things like that — so it’s just useful for getting the word out,” Hart said.
Publicity through social media sites seems to be the key component of successful plays, club meetings, speaker series and other events on the Hilltop.
“If I couldn’t use Facebook or Twitter to find out where different events were being held, it would be a lot more difficult to figure out where I was going on the weekends,” Hannah said.
However, knowing about what’s going on around campus during the weekends can lead to new instances of peer pressure and unhealthy comparisons. One of the most popular Twitter hashtags attests to this phenomenon: #FOMO, the “fear of missing out.”
“If I’m already in my pajamas, I’m not very likely to change my plans, but my feelings will definitely change,” Hannah said. “It probably wouldn’t be enough to actually make me change my plans, but it would definitely be enough to affect my mentality about staying in for the night and would probably make me feel less satisfied with my decision to stay in.”
Ross responded differently.
“I think two years ago I would have felt very left out, but since being at Georgetown, I have grown and kind of adopted that more mature perspective of ‘I can do what I want to do, what’s best for me.’ Now if I saw that, I would be fine,” Ross said. “Honestly, it would probably reaffirm my decision because I’m at a place where I’m comfortable enough that when I want to see people that I know, I can make plans to do that. Whereas when you’re just starting at college, you want to meet people, so you don’t want to miss out on any events.”
Social media-induced anxiety does not stop at weekend plans. Online profiles that only show the highlights of a person’s experiences can lead other students to feel alienated if they feel they are experiencing less exciting lives.
“If you’re scrolling through someone’s timeline and all you see are the happy moments of people’s lives, I guess you can feel kind of self-conscious. I think it’s just important to recognize that Facebook doesn’t show it all,” Lam said.
Filtered and edited perfection on Instagram can have the same effect as mass media in regards to young women and body image.
“Is she too skinny? Am I too fat? What is she compared to me? It skews your thought process as far as what’s considered normal and whether or not your friends are healthy. You compare yourselves to them, and that affects how you see yourself,” Hannah said.
Social media provide yet another avenue where college students might feel the need to seek approval. Instead of being outlets for self-expression, social media can quickly transform into twisted measures of self-worth.
“Instagram is my favorite app on the iPhone; I use it a lot. I’m very into art and photography. I feel like I can upload whatever I want; it doesn’t have to be some perfect picture of myself. For example, if I find some art piece that I really like, I would love to post that,” Araz said. “But people, especially girls, really consider what they need to upload and how many likes they want to get; if they don’t see that they have as many likes as they want, they will delete it. I feel like that doesn’t matter, and that if you like something you should upload it, but that’s not the case for everyone.”
Regardless of where a person comes from, it is impossible to deny social media’s significant presence in college students’ lives.
“I would say that in general, social media has a negative impact on people’s lives. I think about me and my friends and how oftentimes, we’ll be sitting around the table at dinner, all of us on Twitter or Facebook instead of chatting with each other; while if we were all to put away our phones, we would be having actual conversations,” Hannah said.
But one thing is clear — even social media’s critics intend to keep using them.
“After graduation, I’ll definitely use it to stay in touch with all of the friends that I have made here because even now I know that we will all be doing different things in different cities. Social media are a really great way to still be in touch with them and to know what’s happening in their lives,” Hannah said.