Electrified Friday Nights: Facebook and College Culture Paradigm Shifts

Image from theberry.com

Friday night and the scene plays out in dorm rooms and apartment complexes of college towns across the country: A girl/woman slithers her way into skintight jeans–pausing to take a sip of a three-shot mixed drink before she zips and buttons. Her three friends call out to her to hurry up from a common room spattered with half-filled plastic cups and glasses as she reaches for the worn stick of black eyeliner  and swivels like one of Pavlov’s dogs at the sound of her vibrating phone. Meanwhile, the boy/man down the corridor perfects the All-American beer pong wrist-flick and fist bumps all around. In his back pocket there is a faint glow before the familiar buzz of iPhone. There’s a party down the road, and he’s quickly weighing his options. 2 more beers here, 3 at the next party, and maybe one at the local bar around midnight (if they make it there before anything better comes along.) If there’s a chance with the girl currently creating the “buzz,” he’ll splurge on her fruity drinks… Or he could just stay here with the guys, play more pong, wait for the girls down the hall to show up tipsy and see what happens. He sends a text message to girl number 1 from this scenario (the one with the tight jeans.) “Pong?” He attaches a picture of the table and its surrounding cohort of grinning guys for good measure.

This portrait of Friday night college night may not be universal in the US, but it’s relatable just the same. From my experience on the “dry campus” of St. Olaf, it’s particularly representative. Filled with the fear of being caught with alcohol, students party hard in the protected caves of dorm rooms and off-campus houses. Should the party leave these spaces, the alcohol is reserved to only one location: the stomach.  Facebook groups with private invitation features fill calendars and newsfeeds with titles like “PREGAME RAVE!” and “21st BIRTHDAY AND WE LIKE TO PARTY.” They include disclaimers like this one:

Wear white Ts and bring highlighters/glowsticks. More neon more fun.

18 to party, 21 to drink (we have to say this.)

Please come in the back door instead of the front.

Through Facebook statuses and text messages, we know when a party “gets off the ground.” At age 21, we make it to the bars mostly for events planned in advance (and advertised on Facebook.) The transportation/1 mile walk into town often feels too onerous after a few drinks and a quick test of the Minnesota cold (i.e. sticking your head out of a house or dorm window.)

In fact, impromptu parties and bar hopping don’t seem to happen at all these days. It’s all pre-planned and discussed over Thursday dinners in the cafeteria and the words exchanged between head nods in the hallways: “You going to the ____ party this weekend?” Not that we even need to ask–on Facebook we already see the list of confirmed attendees. Verbal confirmation is a formality meant to mask the act of “Facebook creeping.”

This morning there was an article written in the NY Times  by columnist Courtney Rubin about the changing college culture I describe. Unlike my parents’ generation of post-class bar hoppers swapping stories over pints of beer, our average Friday night involves Facebook photos and an extended “pre-game.” Our constantly socially mediated lives are impacting bars in ways we never could have dreamed. The college kids are cheap, they don’t mosey in until after midnight, and they’re on to the “next thing” within minutes. It’s a conundrum for bartenders who must now upload “mixologist” apps to keep up with the strangely-named drinks the students have seen friends drink on Facebook.

It’s no longer common to meet a future significant other from atop a bar stool. Instead, students travel to bars in pre-assigned packs–texting and messaging selected peers to make the trip “worth it.” Constantly plugged into social media, we know what we are going to experience before it takes place. The mediums of smart phones and Facebook have changed the way we relate to one another–they have become extensions of ourselves. Through the lenses of Facebook albums and listings of past events, we assign self-worth.

In one poignant quote from the Times article, we hear from a 22-year old college student representative of Facebook’s impact on a culture of overconsumption:

“You could have this really amazing night, but if you didn’t get a picture, it’s like it didn’t happen,” said Ms. Parr, 22, a senior at Gettysburg, whose friends often order designer outfits from the Rent the Runway Web site because incessant documenting makes wearing anything more than twice taboo. “It’s crazy how much pictures consume our lives. Everyone knows how to pose and how to hold your arm and which way is most flattering, and everyone wants the picture taken with their phone.”

Where do we go from here? Are we destined to move into an age of technology-riddled bars where interested men scan the QR codes of women  in order to link to their Facebook profiles (conveniently located on stylish bracelets,) or is there hope for preserving more traditional forms of connection?

Today our Facebook profiles rule our lives. We define ourselves in their structure–tweaking for various audiences and moving outward to venues like LinkedIn for more professional ventures. If it happened on Facebook, it must be true. Check out this Chevy ad featuring the intersection of our digital and physical lives and Facebook constructed identities:

And this one, about how the internet takes over our lives:

This weekend I will be participating in a “Media Deprivation” assignment. No email, no Facebook, no texting, no music. Will I survive? Will my identity be compromised? Based on the way Facebook is perceived to ultimately structure the contents of a weekend, I might spend my three days of deprivation alone in my room–unable to coordinate “caf dates” for mealtime via text or Facebook message and confined to the plans I’ve made for events at least one week in advance.   Stay tuned.

 

 

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