Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland

Defining media: Facebook at NYUAD

Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland coffee [noun]: a hot drink made from the roast and ground bean-like seeds of a tropical shrub. Holi [noun]: a Hindu ...

Apr 13, 2013

Photo courtesy of Jamie Sutherland
coffee [noun]: a hot drink made from the roast and ground bean-like seeds of a tropical shrub.
Holi [noun]: a Hindu spring festival celebrated in February or March in honour of Krishna.
hummus [noun]: a thick paste or spread made from ground chickpeas and sesame seeds, olive oil, lemon and garlic, made originally in the Middle East.
Asia [adjective]: relating to Asia or its peoples, customs or languages.
anchorage [noun]: an area off the coast which is suitable for a ship to anchor.
“Yalla” could not be found.
Budding anthropologists well-versed in computer science could assemble a computer program that would scan NYUAD’s largest Facebook group, pull out nouns and search for definitions. With that, they’d probably be able to gather a fairly representative impression of what floats the NYUAD student boat. Just looking at the above definitions, you suspect they might be a little confused about why some sailors prefer to anchor offshore, or why Holi took place in April, but no doubt they would gather the essentials.
Facebook is built around essentials. It’s designed to facilitate access to the most popular, the most interesting, the most social of everything you have access to. A quick and not especially scientific test reveals that homework was mentioned 11 times so far this year across our two largest Facebook groups. ‘Sushi’ was mentioned 10 times. Chances are, you’ve probably seen sushi discussed more online – by way of evidence, no one has ever told NYUAD to calm down with the homework, while one Resident Assistant did advise we did so with sushi at 15:31 on 27 February on the Room of Requirement Facebook page.
The platform buries content that isn’t discussed or liked. Appropriately, this is rather cosmopolitan of Mark Zuckerberg — Facebook is far more than a shouting match or a popularity contest; it’s a conversation. And the best part of this conversation? There are so many of us involved. There are around 460 students enrolled at NYUAD as full-time students, and yet there are 501 members of the NYUAD Student Life group and 482 members of NYUAD’s Room of Requirement. Those extra few dozens are NYUNY RAs and students studying abroad, so we can call each of them one of us.
NYUNY is notorious for its lack of any real sense of community. The Facebook group NYU Secrets asks users to “build a community--once and for all,” but when a group with an identical function appeared at NYUAD, people were left wondering — what secrets? Here, everyone knows one another, even when they’ve never met or they’re halfway across the world. Eager freshmen and absent juniors encounter each other in online discussions, and the vaguest of friends keep up to date with each other’s statuses, posts and photos.
There’s no need to build a community at NYUAD. It already exists and we may soon become notorious for its overbearing presence. We’re online all the time. It doesn’t matter that I’m writing this over 8,000 miles from campus, because I can chat with my editor on Facebook. It’s too obvious to marvel at. But an insistence on the instantaneous isn’t unique to NYUAD. What marks us out is the way we use it. There isn’t a large student presence on Twitter. Google+ might even be in fourth place after LinkedIn, what with the Career Development Center being quite so cutting-edge. What brings us all to Facebook, everyday and at every hour?
Speak to students from elsewhere and they’ll tell you that Facebook is for your friends, not your academics, your extra-curriculars, clubs, campus life and coffees. But all these things float the NYUAD student boat on Facebook and that’s because the boat is not a boat, it is a ship — a friendship. NYUAD operates on the basis that all of us are friends. It’s no bad modus operandi and so far it’s worked pretty well. You would like a cup of sugar, neighbor? Please, require it on our special group. You would like to watch a film with me? I’ve invited all 500 of us on our special group. You are sick in bed and in need of sustenance? Ask away, amigo, on our special group.
Friendship is the default setting at NYUAD. It’s a great strength. As in all friendships, there have been fights, disagreements, rebellions, pictures of kittens. But we still use Facebook for everything because we’re nice enough to do so. That’s not necessarily a reflection on all of us; instead, simply that our groups’ power users create an atmosphere that makes the rest of us want to be nice too – beyond Facebook, opinion leaders at our university tend to be friendly, following the example of a man who hugs everyone he meets. There’s no evidence that we use Facebook because John Sexton is quite so gregarious, but you’ve got to admit we’re nice people. Facebook wouldn’t work otherwise, honestly.
You wouldn’t understand NYUAD just by looking at a list of our interests. Though Special Agent Dale Cooper may have an interest in the Association for South Asian Cultural Understanding, there’s never been much overlap between the Twin Peaks Club and ASACU. We’re a varied bunch. But — never let it be forgot — we’re cosmopolitan too and that means talking with people who hold different beliefs, like different things and might even use Facebook in a different language. ‘Pirate’ doesn’t count. We use Facebook everyday because we’re happy to involve everyone in everything, and, beyond generosity, that makes us brave. Tell that to yourself next time you check the news feed: you don’t just use Facebook because we’re nice — you use it because you’re brave.
All definitions taken from Oxford Dictionaries.
Jamie Sutherland is a contributing writer. Email him at
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