Facebook, the nation: Getting-to-know-you gets wired

By Stacey Wilson '96

For college students, scoping out classmates is often an unofficial intramural sport. This author recalls with great fondness many a night spent poring over the “Chee Chako,” that seemingly innocent black book of freshmen faces we mocked and mooned over during those awkward first months as we shed our high school hair in hopes of getting in good with the beautiful people, each of us with varying degrees of success.

But kids these days need more than an outdated high school picture to build their social network. They crave the music preferences, politics, favorite movies, birthdays, and cell phone numbers of the people they see in the SUB. “What’s your major?” has gone the antiquated way of “What’s your sign?” in relationship-building.

Enter thefacebook.com, a wildly popular Web site where undergrads’ hobbies, hopes, dreams, and often silly photos converge to create comprehensive profiles of who’s who on college campuses. From Appalachian State to Yeshiva University and back, facebook.com users have created the largest online Rolodex known to man.

Launched in 2004 by a group of students at Harvard, thefacebook has spread to 573 campuses and hosts nearly 2.5 million users, 1,911 of which are UPS students who, assuredly only in their free time after tomorrow’s pysch reading is done, have created catchy and tongue-in-cheek profiles of themselves that serve as shortcuts to friends new and old. It’s a virtual, some might say even virtuous, alcohol-free social scene filled mostly with people like you and the people you like.

Here’s how it works: Anyone with a valid .edu e-mail address at a participating college or university can set up a personalized page for free. Members can post (and change at will) pictures and varying amounts of personal information about themselves, ranging from high school attended to contact information to favorite movie quote. (Note of interest: Dialogue from “Anchorman” and “Office Space” seem to appear most frequently on Loggers’ pages.)

Shared pop culture interests aside, many UPS facebook users report that the it’s-a-small-world-after-all aspect that keeps them coming back for more. “I signed up last October because one of my friends invited me to join,” says Eddie Monge ’06. “And it’s really interesting how connected I am around the university. Some of my friends I see in one setting are friends with other friends I know from a different context. It’s fun how we all know each other in a bizarre 6-degrees-of-separation way.”

Scouring the pages of UPS facebook devotees is an exercise in surprises. There’s Travis Halterman ’07, who considers himself a political conservative, which at UPS is as rare as a unicorn. Oh, speaking of unicorns, there is a facebook “group” devoted to fans of the imaginary beasts called, appropriately, Everything Associated With Unicorns is Cool. (KUPS DJ China Bialos ’06 is a member). Other groups include: My Music Is Better Than Your Music, Abercrombie and Fitch is Evil, The I Hate Kids Cooperative, and I Drive a Honda. And we must not forget the message “wall” on each profile where friends can post friendly hellos (“Howdy, you look hot in my cowboy hat!”) or urgent follow-ups to previous conversations (“Happy birthday! Sorry my phone went dead earlier.”)

Sure, making friends is cool, but let’s get real: UPS students need love, too. Can they find it on thefacebook? “Um, heck no,” says Danya Clevenger ’07, who has 160 facebook buddies. “I think it promotes stalkerism.” (Though she did receive a pleasant surprise in the form of an e-mail from a kid she went to elementary school with.)

Eddie Monge reports that he, too, has received, some, uh, unwanted attention from a few overzealous ladies. But such are the risks in the game of “he/she with the most friends wins.” And Eddie seems to be at the head of the pack. “I currently have 216 friends on facebook, but I’m connected to 1,479 through one degree of separation. That’s about half the students at UPS.” Not that he’s counting.