Mark E. Zuckerberg envisioned Facebook as a tool for students to create an online network of friends. This past summer, nearly a decade after it was founded, Stephen A. Turban ’17 used the social medium to connect with other classmates who were fond of the Mediterranean dip hummus.
Turban, then an incoming student, wrote a post on the Facebook page for the Class of 2017 about bringing hummus to his freshman seminar.
“It ended up being like, ‘Hope you’re taking this class. If you do, I’ll be the one bringing the hummus,’” he said.
Turban’s comment caught the attention of one of his fellow classmates, who shared his love of hummus and soon became his virtual friend.
“Literally for the next, like, two months until school started, we just talked about hummus on Facebook,” Turban adds. “We had like one message a day or two days. It was awesome.”
Turban, along with 97 percent of the freshman class, has a Facebook account. Since the creation of the social network, Turban’s story is not entirely atypical among Facebook users who have found friends, fellowship, and community at Harvard, even before they step foot through the gates of Harvard Yard.
While Facebook has undoubtedly made students at Harvard feel more connected, academics and individuals who have worked with students over the past decade are not sure whether it has truly brought the Harvard community closer together.
THE AGE BEFORE LIKES
Before Facebook emerged on Harvard’s campus, students socialized in ways both similar and different to that of current undergraduates, say Harvard administrators who have witnessed how the social network has shaped students’ life over the past decade.
Adams House Co-Master John G. “Sean” Palfrey ’67 recounts how, even 15 years ago, students used different means to reach out to each other.
“Every room had a phone that was working, and, in fact, in the beginning phones weren’t allowed in the dining hall,” Palfrey said. “You weren’t allowed to talk in the dining hall on your phone because it would disturb other people.”
Those rules—and the popularity of those signature red phones—disappeared as students began taking advantage of rapidly advancing mobile technology and email capabilities, Palfrey said.
“People at first didn’t really know what to think about email, but really pretty quickly it became a relatively serious communication device,” he said.
Initially, many students utilized Facebook as just another substitute for talking on the phone, Palfrey said. However, he adds, as Facebook grew to accommodate different forms of media such as photos and videos, students began to use Facebook to share their personal lives in the public sphere, an alternative to the business-like atmosphere of email.