REVIEW: Freshers group chats
From a technophobe who wasn’t funny enough to contribute to them
Cast your minds back to A Level results day. After the tsunami wave of envelopes and UCAS Track, time brought the realisation that university actually wasn’t actually that far away (apart from for the unfortunate souls going to Oxf*rd, who were probably too busy wallowing in despair for such grand revelations). In a flurry of self-congratulation and FOMO-induced distress, the "Cambridge University Freshers 2018 – 2019" Facebook page was joined.
Freshers groups epitomise a rosy ideal of social media use, which Mark Zuckerberg would gladly pin up on his fridge as evidence of a Job Well Done. People from across the world, brought together through Facebook! What could be better!
Don’t be fooled.
At the end of the longest summer known to mankind (and, for some, a gap year on top of that), there is an incredible sense of foreboding in the run up to starting university: will my ability to read have dissipated into the past three and a half months of nothingness?
When you lump together 150 people who all share this eerie premonition that actual work is just over the horizon, the product is a strange potpourri of attempts to validate how we've spent our summers.
As soon as you step foot in a lecture hall, it becomes clear that it’s absolutely fine to have done nothing of use before arriving at university (thank God). Nonetheless, that doesn’t make it any less intimidating when your future cohort nonchalantly discuss how they’ve read the entire Communist Manifesto, built homes for 14,000 Thai orphans AND solved Brexit since their A Levels finished.
But the fun doesn’t stop there! This semi-hysteria is made exponentially worse by the addition of people who weren't meant to be in the group chat in the first place. The only admissions criterion for a Freshers group chat is a well-worded post in the Facebook group (and maybe some cute-but-artsy emojis to show how #relatable you are). As the presence of an imposter who renamed himself ‘class enemy’ in the History Freshers group chat shows, illegitimately sneaking into a group chat of your choice is all too easy.
To be fair, given the socialist-infused carnage cooked up on the History chat by "class enemy", you might understand the comedic appeal of doing so. The field remains open to any and all who want to spend their free time complaining about lecture clashes with people they don’t know!
Fundamentally, however, Facebook group chats distort the "getting-to-know-you" process before Freshers has even begun: the chattiest participants becoming BNOCs-in-waiting before they’ve even become NOCs. Meeting people online before we meet them in real life encourages us to form superficial assumptions about their character, intellect and appearance, simply upon the basis of a profile picture. This is inevitable, subconscious and there’s nothing malicious about it: but that doesn’t make it good.
There is, of course, no way to stem the tide of Freshers Facebook groups (read: I am fully aware that I’m complaining for the sake of it). Indeed, the Freshers Committee members who parented these group chats deserve nothing but resounding respect. Guiding lights in a sea of Admissions Handbooks and Accommodation Preference Forms, they made starting Cambridge feel a bit less of an insurmountable challenge – particularly significant for international students and those who've never had relations go to university before.
For all these virtues, my phone simply couldn't hack the endless reems of "20+ unread messages"; as such, I was forced to accept a valuable life lesson. Sometimes, the mute button is your friend.