Admittedly, the first thing that I do every morning (after snoozing that annoying alarm) is to check my Facebook page for new messages, events, "likes", comments, and news feeds. This confession may not be uncommon among college students, for social media has been an integral part of our lives.
Social media networks such as Facebook can be easily addictive, because we are interested in what our friends are up to lately. After all, we are social animals who love our friends.
As the social media becomes increasingly prevalent, the definition of a "friend" seems to have also broadened. In addition to expanding its coverage to include more people as a noun, the word "friend" has become a verb. It is not unusual for us to "friend" people across the globe whom we have only met once or twice, at Model UN conferences or summer programs. Although it is not always the case, some of us do use social media channels as a great means of keeping in touch despite the geographical factors that prevent us from meeting up.
Often, friend requests come through from people whom we have never met. Call that spamming, trolling, or whatever. Fine. Many a time last year, though, I decided to "friend" people whom I have never met. Why? Because I would be meeting those people within a few months as a proud Pomona College freshwoman. I wanted to find out more about my future classmates, to "meet" them virtually. It was a brand new experiment, as I was very new to Facebook. Over the months following my college acceptance and preceding move-in day, I exchanged messages with my future peers and liked their statuses from my desk in China. Many of them reciprocated, and we did become friends in real life after actually meeting each other on campus.
I found it bizarre yet fascinating how the Internet provided a novel way of "meeting" new friends. Just visualize a scene where you see someone walking toward you. Instead of introducing yourself, you immediately match the person's face with his or her Facebook image: not just the physical appearance, but also everything else - hobbies, potential majors, favorite movies and books, the reason why that person decided to come to Pomona College...
When my friending activities first began, I did believe that my little experiment could be called daring in the potentially critical responses it might provoke. This hypothesis has been proven valid by my college experience. Whenever I'm introduced as "This is April. I met her through Facebook", I felt awkward due to the negative connotation that's associated with overusing SNS networks like Facebook. My friends assured me that it's not necessarily a bad thing. Having reconsidered the role of the social media in my post-high school and pre-college experience, I would happily say that the experience has been an adventure. Connecting with people and reaching out proactively are essential skills for us.
On campus, I've further benefited from social media networks. Many on-campus events are marketed largely through this virtual platform. Pomona College offers an array of exciting student-initiated events, including honest conversations about social issues, cultural gatherings, guest speakers' talks, art events, etc. I get motivated to get up in the mornings by those event invitations, excitedly marking my iCal with new events that would brighten up my days ahead. Apart from minimizing the need for mass production of posters to distribute around the five Claremont Colleges, the social media also manages to make the invitation process more personal to a certain degree. For instance, I like sending out invitations to my friends who might be interested in a particular event. Despite that a lot of those invitations are "mass produced" through an automatic Facebook filter, the personal invitations have always delighted me.
There are many arguments against the usage of social media websites that I do agree with (e.g. they are additive and distracting, and people's opinions on current events could be too easily influenced by those of their friends), but as we examine SNS networks through our critical lens, we should simultaneously consider its benefits, that social media can enrich our college experience.