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Engineering Digital Communities by Waly N. '24

reflecting on the start of the zoomester and the months prior

September 1st may have been one of the most simultaneously exhilarating and utterly terrifying days I’ve had in a long time. Especially since I’ve become a real-life potato since quarantine started and things like 1+1 is starting to seem like a challenge.

Day 1 of September rang in a new milestone for me. It was the first day of my MIT experience,01 aka being firehosed so it reminded me of an exercise I did before for the program I participated in last summer. A little over a year ago in July 2019, I wrote a blog post for my summer program imagining a sample day at my future college. At that point in time, I had no fixed idea of where I was applying, what on earth I was doing, or anything of that sort, but I could imagine how the start of my college life would be like. So I wrote as follows:02 abridged version of my original

“My dorm-mates and I eat breakfast, talk a bit, as we all get ready for the day. … After my first class, I meet up with some friends. I walk outside on the campus, with a cool breeze. It’s fall but the weather is still nice. We go to a nice part of campus and just eat some food and joke around.”

Meme with caption: Shouldn’t have said that. I should NOT have said that.

As you might be able to tell by now, this has aged horribly thanks to my lack of 2020 vision. Though to be fair, no one could have seen anything this damn year threw at us coming. 

Starting this semester at the internationally acclaimed Zoom™ University, I do not have dorm-mates, nor have I seen more than a few pictures of MIT’s campus this fall. Currently, I’m living at my home in NYC, and the start to freshman year has been rather odd. It definitely doesn’t have the feel of walking around campus to it like I wrote. More a feeling of typing on my computer till my wrists hurt, as I am doing right now. 

Faces have been replaced by profile pictures. Names have been replaced by screentags. In this virtual landscape and these unprecedented times,03 favorite phrase of 2020 there’ve been many things that have made this fall feel like an uphill battle. It’s often harder to connect and bond with people, make friends, and reach out. A few days into the semester has already put a highlight on some of these things. 

But despite those factors,  I’ve still been able to feel a sense of community amongst ourselves in the class of 2024 since committing back in May. I’m not always certain where it comes from, but I’ve still been able to feel a sense of belonging. And I have to thank student-made groups like our 24’ Discord server a lot for that. 

Because without them and all the people in it, all the hard aspects of Zoom U would be far harder. All these groups have really forged a community and family for the 24s, one that I couldn’t find anywhere else. You can go ask a question, joke around, discuss politics, or virtually anything else. It doesn’t matter whether this community comes from mutual suffering, shared interests, or just a sense of comradery, people are always there and willing to talk, chat, or support you. Through micro-interactions, I feel I’ve gotten to know a few people just online. Not feeling solitary as an incoming student has made such a difference when we are all in different places, time zones, states, and countries.

Over the summer when we were still prefrosh, communities like our Discord helped turn events that can feel tedious virtually to fun-filled hours, serving as a miracle antidote to zoom fatigue. It’s helped make course registration, amongst many other things, a less confusing process. It’s helped ease a little bit of the stress coming from starting college. It’s even helped serve as a nice means of procrastination.04 darn it  

Not to count all the times it’s helped me stay up to date with information and deadlines.

I know Discord, along with other platforms, could never be a true substitute or replacement for a campus, dorms, and irl friends. They simply aren’t meant to be. At times, these platforms are overwhelming for many people with so many channels and options. So wanting them to be picture-perfect copies of an in-person experience only lets expectations fall short, and I’ve fallen into that hole a lot. But given our current situation, I’ve gotten to see how our online communities have been so instrumental to my freshman experience so far.

Coming to terms with the reality that our Fall isn’t gonna be anything like “normal”  or amazing, I thought of how many things will be suboptimal and foreign. Yet things like this have left me looking forward to the future, where hopefully my 2019 blog post is true. At the moment, I might only know some of my classmates by screen names and their profile pictures. But I can’t wait to meet them and turn discord convos into times where “we go to a nice part of campus and just eat some food and joke around.”

For now, I have no idea where my year will take me academically, socially, and physically. But, I got to say, it does feel awfully nice to be a part of a group of people like the 24s no matter what.05 Shoutout to all the boomers and bloggers too, you've made our groups even better

  1. aka being firehosed back to text
  2. abridged version of my original back to text
  3. favorite phrase of 2020 back to text
  4. darn it back to text
  5. Shoutout to all the boomers and bloggers too, you've made our groups even better back to text