I recently started my first ever college classes at Emory University. I was super excited to move to Atlanta, a drastic change from my hometown of Los Angeles, to meet new people from a wide array of places and backgrounds. The first few weeks emulated the classic “start of college experience” I had always heard about. I’ll admit, it was overwhelming to be in a brand new place with brand new people, but realizing that everyone was in the same boat alleviated my fears. My first few weeks of college were full of logging new phone numbers, Instagram handles, and Snapchat usernames, as well as answering redundant questions such as “Where are you from?” or “What are you thinking about majoring in?”
As classes began and social groups started to settle, the swarm of people I had met fizzled into the digital creation of dozens of random group chats. At first I saw these chats as nothing but positive resources. If I ever wanted to find a group to go to the dining hall with, I’d text in the chat. If I ever wanted to go shoot hoops in the gym, I’d text the other chat. If I ever wanted to hit the library with a focused group, I’d text another chat.
Group chats were great resources for branching out and finding various people I could really connect with. Because I was only benefiting from these group messages, I saw no reason to consider a more, perhaps, negative side to them. However, I soon noticed that the settling of friend groups through the use of group chats brought about a severe problem.
I recognized that a similar pool of names began to appear from chat to chat; and at the same time, I often noticed that there were a handful of names that were being excluded. As the large iMessage group chat dwindled in subsets of smaller ones, many people were often forgotten and left behind. My friends often commented that the people excluded were those they “didn’t really vibe with.”
I can grasp the concept of not completely getting along with someone. We don’t always hit it off with everyone, and social disagreement is a natural part of life.
However, because we were so early into the semester, I was baffled that my friends believed that they could fully get to know someone in such a short time. How was it already possible to determine that “so-and-so” wasn’t cut out for “such-and-such’s” friend group? The idea seemed harsh and ridiculous to me, and when it comes down to it, this is bullying. I found myself in the middle of this threatening behavior but was afraid to speak up about it because I was worried I would then become the excluded target. Unfortunately, this bullying behavior became the norm within these chats.
As of recent, I had always associated the term “bullying” with childish, teen behavior. In my mind, we should all outgrow this term because as adults we have a mature enough awareness to understand that if at any time someone is being bullied, that someone could be us. My mindset started shifting in high school and was finally cemented at the beginning of college that new social dynamics call for a “survival of the fittest” mentality. At our core, we all want to be popular and liked. We tend to find validation in ourselves through popularity, which is often defined in iMessage.
Constantly seeing the increase of those thin white numbers surrounded by the small red bubble becomes a drug, deceivingly reassuring us of our self-worth.
Even if we have the best of intentions, this drive and urge blurs our peripheral vision to those we are leaving in the dust.
Noticing this odd trend of the “group chat scandal” filled me with a sickening feeling because at what point would I be left out of certain group chats if I hadn’t been already? College has only heightened my fomo (“fear of missing out”) because I often feel pressure to be social 24/7. The toxic tendencies of these group chats only turned this fomo into anxiety in a never-ending whirlpool of self-doubt. I was constantly pestered with the thought that people were talking behind my back, and worse, being social and making plans without my knowing. For someone with significant fomo, I realized that these chats were weapons for only making this apprehensive feeling more destructive.
We all have levels of insecurity that leave us predicting the worst in social situations. Bullying behaviors like these only leave us nervously wondering in the dark.
I’ve always been fascinated by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but after this group chat experience, I have a newfound perspective on how important the value of belonging is. Technically speaking, “Love/belongingness” is the third category on Maslow’s path to self-actualization, and, more importantly, it’s the first abstract need on the list. Of course we have physiological (food, water, breathing) and safety (roof over our heads) needs, but coming just after is the idea of belonging. We are a social species full of intangible, abstract feelings. Being emotionally secure allows us to thrive in other areas of our lives.
Now well into the college experience, I realize that the main form of bullying that exists comes from talking behind people’s backs. It sounds cliche, but it’s a natural human tendency. Forming presumptuous opinions is easy. I know how effortless it is to engage in said behavior because I often did; however, seeing the true harm it can do to an excluded person has motivated me to speak out whereas before I was too afraid to. In order to curb this form of bullying, we must really focus on the things we say and make sure that no one is portrayed in a bad light. We must make sure that we include as many people as we can by personally challenging ourselves to spread our social boundaries. In addition, we have to live in the present without a reliance of technology binding our social lives together. It takes work. It takes effort. But resources like The Conversationalist put us on the right track to finding the good in all people and putting negative talk of others to bed.