Social life at UTD is a varied experience, affected by student workloads and the way people socialize in the age of the internet and social media.
On the UTD subreddit, there are a myriad of posts from students asking for friendships, new clubs or to meet up. Biology junior Sana Salam made a Reddit post asking for friends after running into various difficulties in consistently meeting new friends. Other students always seemed to be busy with schoolwork or otherwise.
“I mean, there’s a lot of people, but I feel like it’s really hard to meet up with our schedules,” Salam said. “I guess you can meet some people, but it’s hard to actually keep meeting them and actually be friends with them, you know?
For Salam, her post was successful. She met various people, including a fellow classmate that she is now good friends with. Reddit provided another avenue of meeting new people, and even though she shared a class with someone, it was through Reddit that they became friends.
“One of the people I met, I’m really good friends with now, because I realized she was in my calculus class,” Salam said. “And if I didn’t make that profile, if I didn’t text her and meet her in person, I wouldn’t have known that she was in my class.”
Salam is part of 6.9% of people surveyed by The Mercury that mainly met new people through social media. The survey of 131 people found that other ways people met others was through classes for 32.8% of respondents and in student organizations or clubs for 27.5%. However, the way people hear about the certain clubs and organizations or even meet people in their own class vary. For Salam, it was Reddit. For students like computer science freshman Jan Morgenstern, it was Discord and word of mouth.
“Most of the clubs I’ve found that I’ve been interested in have been through Discord and through talking to people,” Morgenstern said. “If I want to know about something someone has or whatever, I just strike up a conversation. It’s not hard for me. I guess it’s just hard talking to them again, finding them again, first of all. And then recognizing them.”
How do these different methods of finding people compare? Senior Arts and Humanities lecturer Allison Templeton said that social media has helped certain people find a voice in an online platform.
“There’s a lot of pros and cons,” Templeton said. “There’s a lot of research that talks about being an introvert really can help people in an online platform, because it gives them a chance to speak still and give a voice.”
Templeton also agrees with Salam’s earlier sentiments that today’s students tend to keep a busy schedule, making it difficult to organize social activities. Students tend to follow a set schedule of eat, sleep, study and repeat. Social media tends to align with this lifestyle better.
“It’s become more of an ability to be quick. Quick messages, look at pictures quickly so I can be present but then get back to my life or back into my world … The case is, you go, you have your schedule, you go to class, you’re ready to leave, you go get something to eat, you go do this, we’re busy,” Templeton said. “We live in a fast-paced world … and we sometimes don’t stop to think, to actually look at the person next to me and just small talk.”
Social media is just a more comfortable tool to use for the current generation of students, Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Shelly Lane said. It helps reduce social anxiety by providing a familiar barrier, because the current generation of students grew up with technology.
“You have grown up with technology, and you’re much more familiar with that,” Lane said. “It’s much easier … to text or to post something than it is to go up to a person and say, ‘Hi, my name is so and so, I want to be a part of the club.’”
Clubs are still a very popular method of meeting new people, as evidenced by the 27.5% surveyed that use them, and finding the right club instantly connects people with other like-minded individuals with similar interests or majors. There are pros and cons with this approach as well. While posters seem to be effective, Morgenstern said that resources like the website Presence — an online database of all on-campus organizations and clubs — can be outdated.
“It was hard for me to find (clubs) that I liked,” Morgenstern said. “I know that there are a lot … but if you go on the Presence website, you don’t find a lot of information about them, current information. And you don’t find a lot of chats they’re on.”
Ultimately, Salam was able to find connections over Reddit. In the modern age, people are using the variety of tools given to them to socialize and connect with people, whether it be through social media, clubs, or just talking to interesting people on the street. For Salam, finding people on Reddit was ultimately comforting.
“That is very nice, knowing that a lot of people kind of struggle making friends just as you, and a lot of people are in the same boat and a lot of people have busy schedules and still want to meet people,” Salam said.