Plugged In: The Fickle and Fantastic Frailty of Facebook and Social Networking In Campus Life

Posted by Nicole

I currently type this blog from a noisy, clunky, grumpy Toshiba laptop that I’ve owned since high school. I just recently pulled it out of dormancy after my other computer and I had creative differences (I wanted the hard drive to live, it felt it more poignant to do otherwise). Now, I go back and forth between treating this machine either like an old decrepit car (“Hurry it up, ya old stupid thing, before I use you for parts!”) or my precious infant just learning to walk (“C’mon, sweetheart, load one more thing, let me send one more email—good Toshy, good!”). Therefore, I can honestly say that I know the anger and frustration associated with this wondrous invention we refer to as technology.

Mmmmmm, the subtle flavor of plastic with just a hint of blinding rage. Delicious. 
For having been birthed from human minds, technology still always seems so alien to us, daunting and ominous with its shiny exterior and complex interior. Literary and cinematic classics love to explore this love/hate relationship our culture has with technology—we designed the controls, and yet when does it start to control us? Can we accidentally create more than we expected? Are we doomed to desire this thing which we have made, and how might it challenge our ideas of what constitutes luxury or necessity, intelligence and sincerity, or even how to define when something is alive in the first place? Should I debate the merits and drawbacks of technology as a whole, and whether it truly is a cornerstone of the progress humankind? Should I explore our intrinsic curiosity and the danger of our own limitations?

Nah, I think I’m just gonna talk about Facebook.

Facebook, the networking site draped in the infamous pacifying blue and white colors, the successor of Myspace, the generator of new friendships and occasional rivalry: how am I going to incorporate this simple little website into college academia?

Well, I’m not. I’m not even going to argue whether Facebook is a help or hindrance to today’s society, although I can certainly formulate an argument out of semi-selfish reasons. Instead, I’m revisiting Facebook through the eyes of an RA, because whether you adore or despise the existence of this website, it’s gained quite some status in the dorm community. (Pun exquisitely intended, for the record.)

As I mentioned in my last post, living in the dorms means that you live with a large and diverse variety of interesting and unique individuals in close quarters. That sense of closeness transposes from the physical realm to the online realm quite quickly, especially when students are so in tune with the more technological side of life. Friend requests fly, pictures are liked and shared, events are planned, and life goes on; however, not without some glitches.

The first problem that I’ll touch upon only briefly is the topic of privacy, or rather, the gradual lack thereof. Dorm life can be a tricky blend of finding one’s individuality while simultaneously finding it difficult to do so privately, which often allows a person to bloom, but can also heap on some pretty significant pressure. Sometimes, the privacy is hard-won: sharing a room with a potential stranger, neighboring nearly fifty other strangers on one floor, eating in a cafeteria utilized by everyone else on campus, washing in communal showers, and taking classes with an auditorium of peers means that living in the dorm halls pretty much ensures a persistent presence of other people.

At other times, however, the privacy is just...forgotten. It’s not the students’ fault: in their own way, it’s a matter of adapting. For many residents, college signifies the transition into thinking, acting, and speaking for their own. Some jump in more fervently than others, and not only partake in the daily interactions in dorm life, but revel in it. They share everything—their space, their times, their pens, paper, the occasional notes, the even more occasional food—but most of all, their thoughts. Sometimes, this works out wonderfully. Other times, it’s hit or miss.

The saying “there are two types of people” kind of feels too simplistic, but in this situation, it has some truth to it. The creativity and eagerness of students spills over into everything they do, and I could write a small tome with the stories I would love to share to exemplify this. I sadly must save that for another blog post, and instead, I will give the example of the infamous feud as of this year between the offspring of dorm culture and Facebook: UAF Confessions and UAF Compliments.

The face of UAF Confessions.
The face of UAF Compliments (photo by Todd Paris).

These two pages have caused quite a stir in the two years of their lifetimes. Both have the same format: an unnamed moderator allows students to subscribe to the page and submit anonymous compliments or confessions, usually addressed to another student or group to find on their newsfeed later. Sometimes the posts are thought-provoking and genuine, others are simply shocking and saddening, some are sweet and heartfelt, and others succumb to the trolling fever that plague anonymous submitters too weak to resist taking advantage of hiding behind the computer screen. The latter users are the ones who give these pages (and the site which hosts them) a bad reputation for being fuel to the malicious behaviors unfortunately present on the internet.  

As an RA especially, I always have to hold my breath when the familiar icons show up on my newsfeed, preparing in case I see a familiar name or situation exposed for the online community to analyze. Sometimes the posts make me angry, and sometimes I’m laughing until tears saturate my face. Oddly enough, this is the same reaction I’ve had in my experience living and working with students in these dorms, and it is for that exact reason that I harbor no ill will towards these fascinating little pages. I’ve seen the heart of the dorm community submitted on that site, and there are times it reflects the spirit of these students so accurately that it hurts. There are still times that it surprises me what these crazy peers of mine come up with.

I’ve seen page after page after page of students anonymously observing the beauty of the people and place around them, and take ten seconds out of their day to share it with somebody else, even faceless people on the Internet. 

I’ve seen nameless individuals admit their past mistakes and give heartfelt advice to anyone else stuck in a similar situation. 

I’ve seen hoards of commenters swoop to the aid and support of someone struggling, even when these people don’t know this person’s name. 

Real screenshots from UAF Compliments and UAF Confessions.


The jokes, the snarky commentary, the banter, the wild out-of-nowhere randomness: this is the spirit of dorm culture, raw and unadulterated. If you can filter past the stupid moments—and there are just as many online as there are in the real world—these pages actually represent something beautiful, something creative, something just as wild and unpredictable and imaginative as the people living on this campus.

For this reason, I am in no way surprised that these pages came into existence.  In a way, I’m kind of glad they did. At times it’s crazy and dramatic, and sometimes it’s incredibly inspiring and sincere. But hey—I describe my job exactly the same way, and I’m not complaining. I almost kind it.

And with that pun, I’m logging out.

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