There are so many ways we can define ourselves here on campus. Publically, we use our majors, classes and activities to present certain aspects of our self. For example, I am an English major currently taking Buddhism and Children’s literature and I just put on a production of “Almost, Maine.” Draw what you will out of that info. Private descriptors exist in conjunction with public. These are things like the kind of music you keep on your iPod, the background on your laptop or the additional stuff you keep in your wallet. Look in mine and you’d find a couple of fortunes from various cookies, a lucky penny I found somewhere in Leutner last month and a lot of receipts which I both refuse to throw away. Every time we make a deliberate choice about what to show, take or experience (i.e. anything we personalize) we are defining ourselves.
I personally think this is awesome, getting to know someone by seeing what they choose. Not that I can look at the apps on any random kid’s phone and know exactly what kind of person they are, but that I get to learn a little bit more about what makes them, them. But, like any social experiment, there are external factors that influence the internal decision to make a certain choice. One of the external factors currently playing a huge role in my decision-making process is Case Western Reserve University. Easy example, I have a whole folder of apps on my phone dedicated to CWRU; I wouldn’t have the ever reliable WEPA app on there otherwise.
But it’s been interesting to see the extent to which CWRU, and perhaps college life in general, influenced my personalization. This first came to my attention when I typed into Google Chrome, trying to get to Rotten Tomatoes. Typing in R, the URL bar instantly gave me rlgn217.wordpress.com, the address Professor Deal uses for his Buddhism blog. Chrome had personalized itself for me by giving my most used websites. More out of boredom than interest, I began typing in random letters into the URL bar. Here is a sampling of the results:
A is for Amazon.com
B is for Blackboard.case.edu
C is for Case.edu
D is for Docs.google.com
F is for Facebook.com
G is for Google.com
L is for Library.case.edu/KSL
N is for Netflix.com
S is for Sis.case.edu
T is for Tumblr.come
U is for Us.megabus.com
Y is for Youtube.com
My personalized ABC’s as far as Google Chrome is concerned. I’m sure some of these addresses were well established before coming to CWRU. For example, Tumblr and I go way back. But several of these have evolved since beginning college, like C. Last year, as a high school senior, it brought up commonapp.org. The year before, as a junior, it brought up college.usnews.com. And before, it would have been collegehumor.com. The C shows that as external factors change, so too do their influence on how we personalize.
What we have from my arbitrary experiment is an example of who I am now. Today. There seem to be three major categories in how Chrome has characterized me: CWRU kid, college kid and easily-distracted kid. URLs I’m sure most of us share like Blackboard, Case’s homepage, and Sis easily define us as Case kids. Because we all live and learn in the same place, we are all influenced in a similar way. More broadly, sites like Amazon, Google Doc and perhaps Megabus might be a common thread through most college kids. Again, an external factor that gives similarities to a large group of strangers. As for Facebook, Google, Netflix, Tumblr and Youtube, I like to get distracted, a quality I’m sure I share with a good portion of the country. Getting distracted isn’t directly the result of an external factor—except from needing a mental break from school or work—but what created this personalized list of URLs was mostly due to my current standing as a college student at CWRU.
So yes, we are able to define ourselves. We can make decisions about what junk to keep in our backpacks, what music to put into our latest Spotify playlist, and what books to display on our bookshelves. While it’s fun to play Sherlock and guess at the greater meaning of these personal choices, there is the ever-present effect of external factors. The social justice side of Tumblr gently reminds us to consider how everyone is feeling and not to jump to hasty conclusions about others. You’ve heard this before.
But what I ask of you is to reflect on your personal external factors. How are they shaping the definition of you? We all change as the result of these factors, but are you being changed for the better? And if you’re not, how can you overcome these factors? Being able to define ourselves through our choices is imperative but not if those choices are being controlled by something other than us.
Abby Armato is a first-year student currently majoring in English and anthropology. When she is not freaking out about impending adulthood, she enjoys various strokes of creativity, determination and passion.