Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Distance-Trust Pioneers

Crops of new college students are making friend before they go to school. An article in the New York Times describes how high school seniors are using Facebook, an online social networking site, to cultivate relationships of trust before they go away to school next fall:

Facebook was originally available only to college students, and expanded to include high school students in September 2005. As soon as the first college acceptances began rolling in that fall, the first future college class groups appeared on Facebook.

Early decision candidates usually create the groups, and others join later as they are accepted. Despite the variety of colleges, the conversational subjects are universal. Typical early postings are laced with excitement about college acceptances “I got in!” and “I’m so excited.” Eventually, practical matters dominate — what dormitories to live in, and finding roommates. Discussions about favorite bands and sports teams also proliferate.

Large universities inspire more groups. Cornell, for instance, has 10 groups for the Class of 2011, including ones for the Hotel School, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and Cornell 2011 Athletes. There are also “Cornell 2011 Anti-Freshman 15,” a reference to the common freshman weight gain (“I’m just scared that all my clothes will be too small and completely useless by Christmas”) and the group for those who missed on early decision (“What are you doing to get in?”).

Mostly though, the talk is about personal, if virtual, connection. Ashley Hollier, a senior at St. Thomas More High School in Lafayette, La., will attend Tulane University in the fall. She and five other students who met through a Tulane 2011 group arranged to visit New Orleans at the same time. After taking a tour together, they went out to dinner.

“It was six people who had never met each other — two from Massachusetts, two from Louisiana and two New York kids,” Miss Hollier said. “Sitting at the table we felt like old friends.”

She knows a freshman at Tulane, who told her it was good she had made online connections ahead of time.

“When she first got there,” Miss Hollier said, “she didn’t have to worry, ‘Who am I going to sit with at lunch?’ because she already had familiar faces from Facebook.”

When I went to university, one common way of networking at orientation was finding other students from your state or region. The Facebook culture may encourage more geographic mixing, all the while socializing young adults to distance-trust relationships that will serve them well after they graduate.

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