Kaley Bent / Gavel Media

Burns Library Exhibit Explores Life Before Social Media

The social life of today’s average college student is filled with GroupMe’s, Snapchat streaks, and Instagram stalking. Online communication through social media has become a central part of the social lives of nearly every college student. Many incoming freshmen make quick judgments about their future peers based on the content of their Facebook or Instagram profile, and this kind of interaction continues throughout their four years on campus. This constant need for online connection signifies the integral role social media plays in the lives of modern college students. As a result, it can be hard to imagine what college life was like before this reliance on social media and online communication.

“Being Social Before Social Media”, an exhibit currently on display in the Burns Library, demonstrates how people interacted before the world of the internet. The exhibit uses artifacts from both within and outside of the BC community.

“This exhibit shows resumes, photographs, games, and even recipe cards as a way people used to share information and experience. The exhibit draws parallels between today’s technology with that of the not-so-distant past,” commented Amy Braitsch, who helped curate the exhibit.

The advent of social media has certainly changed the way people, and especially college students, interact with each other. For example, UGBC used to provide freshmen with a “freshman facebook”—a book which attempted to help freshmen get to know their classmates. This book was issued to freshmen starting in 1975, with the most recent issue given to the freshmen of 2010. However, it was not produced in every year during that span, and appeared under different names, including “Freshman Register” (1975-87, 1990), “Freshman Record” (1992, 1998-99, 2002), “Freshman Facebook” (2006), and a number of others.

These books provided a picture of each freshman, along with their name, hometown, high school, intended major, and few of their interests. They are a great example of what it meant to be social in the time before social media; students had to search through a print book in order to find bits of information about one another, while today’s freshmen jump to online outlets, like Facebook and Instagram. The original “Freshman Facebook” of BC had the same basic functions as the digital Facebook of today—to connect people and allow them to put pieces of information about themselves on display for others to see.

Upon meeting classmates, current BC freshmen might trade Instagram usernames, scan Snapchat codes, or exchange phone numbers. These social practices were understandably absent in the lives of students before social media. While a student today might return to their dorm and scroll through a classmate’s online profile to find out more about them, students of a previous generation could have used these print “Facebooks” with the same purpose.

Though it is difficult to say with certainty whether social media has had a positive or negative effect on the overall lives of students, changes in social behavior are undeniable. For example, students are now able to remain in contact with friends back home or at other schools much more conveniently than was possible before social media. Today, social connection is quite literally at one’s fingertips. But is some sense of humanity lost with the departure of more traditional forms of communication, like those on display in Burns Library? One purpose of the exhibit, according to its curators, is to remind visitors that interaction without technology remains in practice, and many of the methods of communication on display are still often used.

One clear impact of the social media and online interaction movement is the instantaneous nature of connection through electronics. The purpose of a letter, which may have taken days or weeks to arrive, can now be achieved instantly through an e-mail. Telegrams have been replaced by texts, which are usually answered in matters of minutes. Technology and social media have taken the myriad methods of communication on display in Burns Library and consolidated them into something much more timely and user-friendly.

Social media has contributed to many aspects of the lives of modern college students. “Students can find roommates online, check to see how professors are rated, and can share articles and information prevalent to their studies through apps like Facebook or Twitter,” one curator of the Burns exhibit reflects. “Plus, being able to easily keep in touch with family and friends when you live away from home for the first time can help with that freshman homesickness!”

The archives in the “Being Social Before Social Media” exhibit offer an interesting glimpse into the past, and how the ways in which people interact have changed —and how they have stayed the same —over the years. It is now open for students, and will remain available until October 6th.

For those interested, a number of other exhibits will be on display in BC’s libraries this year. “Desegregating Boston’s Schools: Crisis and Community Activism” will be viewable in Burns starting on October 16th. “For Boston: Echoes of Hockey History from the Boston College Archives” is set to be on display outside Gargan Hall in the spring of 2018. Finally, “The Object in the Archive: Networks and Materiality at the Burns Library” will be available starting in February of 2018.

“We hope that visitors enjoy the exhibit and learn a little something about what’s in archives and why. We hope they’ll have fun, too,” Braitsch added. “Who knows, maybe they’ll even be inspired to go old school and write a letter or send a postcard!”

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