Incoming College Students Are Re-creating Facebook on Instagram

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By the time many college freshmen arrive on campus this fall, they’ll have already met their roommate, their core friends, and many of their classmates on Instagram. They’re connecting through class accounts, Instagram pages set up by one or several incoming members of a college’s freshman class to help everyone meet before the school year officially starts.

These accounts have names such as @penn2023_and @AUclassof2023, and they typically feature user-submitted photos and paragraph-long biographies of incoming students, often including their intended major, whether they’re looking for a roommate, and their personal Instagram handle. “Hey!” the caption on one recent class page reads. “I am from Overland Park, Kansas and plan to major in environmental and natural resources. I love anything outdoors (hiking, kayaking, hammocking) and i’m always down to get food!!! I am definitely interested in rushing! I would love to talk to you guys, (i need a roommate!!) so please DM me about anything!:)”

 

In China, Daydreaming Students Are Caught on Camera

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In the halls of Yuzhou No. 1 High School in central China, students refer to them simply as “the cameras.”

When the first bell sounds before 7 a.m., their fish-eye lenses spring to life, broadcasting live as students sit at their desks and measure geometric angles, pass notes or doze during breaks. Before long, thousands of people — not just parents and teachers — are watching online, offering armchair commentary.

“What is this boy doing? He’s been looking around doing nothing, like a cat on a hot roof,” one user wrote. “This one is playing with his phone!” added another, posting a screenshot.

As internet speeds have improved, live-streaming has become a cultural phenomenon in China, transforming online entertainment and everyday rituals like dating and dining. Now the nation’s obsession with live video is invading its schools, and not everyone is happy about it.

Campus Suicide and the Pressure of Perfection

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Classmates seemed to have it all together. Every morning, the administration sent out an email blast highlighting faculty and student accomplishments. Some women attended class wearing full makeup. Ms. DeWitt had acne. They talked about their fantastic internships. She was still focused on the week’s homework. Friends’ lives, as told through selfies, showed them having more fun, making more friends and going to better parties. Even the meals they posted to Instagram looked more delicious.

In 2003, Duke jolted academe with a report describing how its female students felt pressure to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without visible effort. At Stanford, it’s called the Duck Syndrome. A duck appears to glide calmly across the water, while beneath the surface it frantically, relentlessly paddles.

“Nobody wants to be the one who is struggling while everyone else is doing great,” said KahaariKenyatta, a Penn senior who once worked as an orientation counselor. “Despite whatever’s going on — if you’re stressed, a bit depressed, if you’re overwhelmed — you want to put up this positive front.”

Citing a “perception that one has to be perfect in every academic, cocurricular and social endeavor,” the task force report described how students feel enormous pressure that “can manifest as demoralization, alienation or conditions like anxiety or depression.”

In the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a screen with carefully curated depictions that don’t provide the full picture. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to nearly constant.