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Sarah Yu '11: Therapeutic narcissism

I'm refreshing my Firefox page again. The event listing now says 11 confirmed guests and two maybes.

"One more confirmed guest!" I cry out triumphantly to the other people sitting in the living room. I am answered with enthusiastic "yays" from my companions. The thrill of this exercise is getting to us all.

I feel that this is something all Brown students experience at some point in our busy extracurricular lives: creating a Facebook event for a party, lecture or fundraiser, and subsequently spending a considerable amount of time trying to will as many invitees as possible to RSVP "attend."

It is striking that over just the past four or five years, Facebook has not only begun to facilitate our social lives, but also our emotions. Being "poked" by a possible romantic interest, receiving a "friend request" from an elementary school jungle gym buddy or having a particularly witty status "liked" is enough to make a Brown student's day just that much better.

These days, we have even more than just the regular, old Facebook to keep ourselves occupied at the expense of schoolwork — there's BrownFML, SpottedatBrown and the new and incredible BlogDailyHerald. They're catered to students at Brown specifically, helping us devote our Internet time to accessing the most up-to-date information, directly relevant to our college lives.

Maybe some members of an older generation could accuse us of being too reliant on technology and being sucked into the addictive and destructive grandeur of the Internet. We can call it a plague of the 21st century, with images of zombie-like (zombies: yet another fascination of our generation) young people stuck to their computers, but I think it's something not quite so malevolent.

Imagine this: a Brown student is stressing out over an overdue paper at eleven o'clock at night. He or she logs onto a favorite procrastination Web site. This Brown student sees a mention in a recent post on SpottedatBrown that may be directed towards him or her, and feels the vain surge of recognition. Though a little "creeped out" at the prospect of being "stalked," the typical Brown student will nevertheless be mostly flattered that he or she had been noticed beyond the daily monotony of college life. That little sense of self-esteem can go a long way in maintaining a student's sanity during midterms or finals. It can be, I believe, the make-or-break psychological motivator towards a good academic attitude and a bad one.

Facebook, for its technical glitches, insensitive weight-loss advertisements and threats of fees, makes us happy. As we post about our personal tragedies on BrownFML, we seek comfort from those fellow students with a few extra compassionate words to share. Actually, the mere evidence of having an FML approved for publication on the Web site is a sign that one's life still has hope. Those who post and those who reply to console will all ultimately feel better about themselves as responsible members of the Brown community — if you really think about it, "liking" a status or sending a sympathetic comment is equivalent to some kind of micro-level community service on the morale front.

One would willingly say "Happy Birthday" to an old acquaintance long forgotten outside of cyberspace, and the Internet forum allows us the freedom of extending courtesies with the utmost ease. Perhaps our social interactions over an Internet forum can be called superficial, but it's arguably much friendlier to send a Facebook wall post with a simple message of greeting than to feel obligated to stop and chat in person about nothing in particular. When we are communicating through the indirect channel of our computers or hand-held devices, there is less of an urge to let the harsh, frustrated tone of college student life take over our messages. It is also more cost-effective than long- and short-distance calling.

So maybe our social interactions are changing, and perhaps it does need to be criticized that young people nowadays no longer find it necessary to engage in the deep, intellectual person-to-person bonding that our psychology textbooks tell us we need. But technology really is, however cliche, bringing us closer to everyone else. It's free therapy for college students, by college students — mass companionship in times of need.

I propose that we restrict the use of the negative term "procrastination" when we surf our favorite online forums. Let's break any stigma against using the Facebook, BrownFML, etc., as a means of keeping ourselves entertained and sensible, and embrace the psychological benefits that the Internet has to bring.

Sarah Yu '11 thinks that she was Spotted at Brown. Whether or not she is mistaken, she can be reached at xia_yu [at]


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