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MIT staff blogger Kellen M.

nothing really matters or does everything? by kellen manning

a tale of epiphanies and a crisis

A while back I gave a presentation at MIT called Three Epiphanies and an Existential Crisis. It was basically me walking through my career in digital communication01 social media, email, website content, etc. in higher education from my time as a grad assistant to now as an assistant director and talking about the main things I learned: 1) people are afraid of new things, 2) you can always find collaborators even if they aren’t on your team, and 3) know and trust your audience. I ended it on a high note and told everyone that the crisis was that nothing mattered. Likes, shares, comments, views, clicks, and any other metric of engagement that exists are completely meaningless.

It was a pretty heavy moment when I realized that everything I had done since I was a graduate student was useless. These were dark, dark times. I mean, where does one go when they realize they may have wasted a good portion of their time on Earth?

Then, at the pit of my despair, I had another thought. What if I’m looking at things the wrong way? What if the reason it all seemed pointless was because I was focusing on the wrong things?

With that, I took a step back and stopped focusing so much on what I was creating and focused more on what the audience was doing. I started paying a lot more attention to how they were using different platforms, what channels they were excited about, and, most importantly, what they were saying.

That was the moment I stopped thinking of myself as just someone who regurgitates facts and information about institutions, because in all honesty, who cares? The answer is no one. Well, at least I didn’t.02 I don't think I'm alone on this

However, what always seemed to piqued my interest was seeing what the community was making and/or saying, figuring out a way to form IRL relationships with said community members, and then finding avenues to amplifying them03 there is also an area where your goal is to listen and see what can be fixed if something is wrong across everything I do.

It’s kind of connected to the question that everyone seems to ask at some point, “What do you love most about *insert school name here*?” The answer is almost always the same: The people.

After hearing said answer, audible groans04 maybe a few boos? pour in from the audience, followed by cries of “CLICHE!!” which leads to so many eye rolls. For real though, “the people” is the only true answer because, quite frankly, MIT is just a place. Nothing more, nothing less. The things that actually draw people to this place tend to be created by the denizens of MIT, and my goal as a member of this community is to make sure that no one ever forgets that fact.

So, in actuality, it’s not so much that nothing matters, it’s that everything matters. It could be something as simple as a dorm tour from Cassandra ’24, or Kidist exploring new looks, or one of Cami’s existential crises, or CJ’s historical tomes, or Sabrina musing about bridges, or Alan walking, or Big Dijkstra Energy’s math pick up lines, or DJ T.A.G.O.E.’s mixes, or Malik and Miles creating a home on STEM TikTok.

It all matters for the simple fact that this is who we are. Without people, MIT isn’t much more than a random pile of rock, glass, metal, and plastic next to a bunch of water. Without people, nothing really matters.

  1. social media, email, website content, etc. back to text
  2. I don't think I'm alone on this back to text
  3. there is also an area where your goal is to listen and see what can be fixed if something is wrong back to text
  4. maybe a few boos? back to text