Technologically speaking, the concept that students could show up for school in the fall having already made the virtual acquaintance of several of their classmates is really quite amazing. That future classmates can establish connections and commonalities in interests, likes and dislikes before they ever meet face to face, has the potential to reduce awkward encounters come freshman orientation as students already have something to talk about, and calm the nerves of students uncomfortable about the prospect of going to an unknown place without a familiar face in sight.
While networking with future classmates offers students a great opportunity to connect before college, there is something about the whole thing that makes me somewhat uncomfortable. The concept that I have access to the life of a complete stranger via photographs, videos and conversations with friends displayed on their profile page, before ever meeting them face to face, is a strange one. People choose to drop boundaries online to others by allowing them some access to their life, revealing information they might not ordinarily reveal if they actually knew them. Aside from feeling the slightest bit creepy when lurking on another's page, in a way, I almost feel like acquainting myself online with those I have yet to meet in person is like cheating - like I skipped over part of the awkward experience of meeting someone for the first time. Upon meeting a person come fall, it is possible that I could already know that they have a passion for Russian history and Buddhism, a hankering for macaroni and cheese, and have just gone through a tragic breakup, before ever having met them - doesn't that take some of the fun out of finding these little things out about people upon gradually getting to know them in person? Though it makes me somewhat nauseous at times, there is something to be said for that nervous excitement and anticipation of the complete unknown, where everyone is in the same boat - just as awkward and anonymous as anybody else.
Another disconcerting factor, though usually not done maliciously and simply a function of the inability to capture one's soul on a Web page, is the ease with which students can misrepresent themselves on a virtual profile. It is just as easy for others to form premature judgments (in favor or not) of a fellow classmate based on such misperception of one's character.
Despite my discomfort, choosing to opt out of the Facebook college networking experience would personally put me out of the loop, especially considering the size of my freshman class (just under 400 people): While a good number of my classmates will have spent months talking (or stalking), I will show up in the fall without a built in network of acquaintances.
Social networking with future classmates can be useful and comforting if done sparingly, but such Web sites should not be used as a way to make your friends for the next four years - that kind of decision can only be made in person. It is no doubt that Web sites like Facebook can help students to not only stay connected with their past, but to embrace their future. However, it is when social networking changes from keeping us connected with real people to connecting with possibly misleading virtual personalities, that such revolutionary technology can become dangerous.
The 411 offers information and insight on the teen scene by Katharine O'Hara, a senior at San Ramon Valley High School who spends her free time going to concerts, enjoying her friends, and playing the piano. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.