Going to college is a big step. When I arrived on Grinnell’s campus as an enthusiastic first-year, I was filled with grandiose visions of the four years that lay ahead. I was eager to immerse myself in the exciting world of higher learning and embrace a new lifestyle. I was ready to become an adult and use the liberal arts education to forge a new identity. I was so caught up in these romantic musings that the simplest of adjustments took me completely off-guard. For the first time in my life, I had to use the Internet!
At first, the challenges of navigating the World Wide Web addled my brain. I don’t doubt that most prospective college students practically think in 0s and 1s. However, there must be a few others out there who have never been to JSTOR or attached a word document to an e-mail. In order to deal with the pressures of college’s technological requirements, some Internet virgins seek refuge in a few frivolous websites. This is understandable; we college students spend so much time in front of a computer screen, it’s healthy to have a few recreational outlets. Internet procrastination seems harmless, but it can be devastating if conducted improperly. Having wasted many hours surfing the web instead of writing papers, I consider myself a procrastinator extraordinaire. I feel compelled to impart some of this hallowed knowledge to future Grinnellians, lest their souls become trapped in the “about me” sections of their Facebook profiles. To this end, I will tell you about a little website called Grinnell Plans.
In January of this year, Plans was reported to have 3,809 members, consisting of current students, alumni, and some faculty, staff members, and, by invitation, other friends of the College. Much like Facebook and MySpace, Plans is a virtual community consisting of individual profiles. However, Plans is different from these run-of-the-mill time-wasters. For one, the profiles are not little boxes for filling in your favorites. Plans members’ pages are akin to blogs: full of opinions, anecdotes, and unadulterated expression. Reading my classmates’ Plans lets me know what’s going on in their lives on a day-to-day basis. This allows me to actually learn about people as unique individuals, as opposed to reducing them to a list of their favorite things, and it can actually inspire real social interactions. In fact, my friend’s witty Plan impressed an admirer so much, she asked him on a date. Surely it’s better to ask someone out because of their scintillating wit, and not simply because he or she is listed as “single” and looks hot in the profile pic.
Facebook claims to be a social networking site, but I consider it a source of insecurity and a vehicle for divisiveness. Friend counts encourage people to quantify their social worth. Exclusive events can make people feel left out. Basically, sites like Facebook and MySpace perpetuate the social dynamics that govern junior high. As a college student, you should seek to expand your social horizons and develop mature relationships with people. Plans fosters this type of social growth by allowing you to connect with the people in your life in meaningful ways. Digital socializing will never replace face-to-face interactions, but in today’s fast-paced world, technology is central to communication. This doesn’t mean we need to interact as robots.
In light of this, I exhort you to spend two minutes on Plans for every minute on Facebook. Wasting time is too important of an activity to be carried out poorly.
Patrick Laine '08 is a Philosophy major from St. Paul, Minnesota.