August 14, 2007

Facebook Your Future Roommate

Remember the anticipation you felt on your first day of college? Showing up to your dorm and wondering what your freshman year roommate would be like? You might have even spoken with your assigned roommate on the phone, and maybe you were wondering if you would share similar interests or get along.

For this fall’s incoming college freshmen, that element of the unknown may be absent. With the help of a little thing called Facebook, students can “meet” their future roommates via an online profile. With a name and a hometown, (information about one’s assigned roommate that is often provided by the university), incoming students can learn of their roommate’s gender, race, hobbies, favorite movies, and even relationship status. While this may be a fun and slightly stalker-esque experience for some, it can create problems for others, especially when parents get involved. Reports of parents calling universities to request room assignment changes after a glimpse of their child’s future bunk mate have been surfacing. A recent USA Today article tells of parents trying to switch their kids’ room assignments possibly based on concern over the race or sexual orientation of the assigned roommate. Some housing officials are making changes based on parents’ concerns while others are sticking to the mandatory waiting periods that prevent students from changing room assignments until after several weeks at school.

It’s true that not all teen social network users post identifying information. Of online teens that use a social networking site such as MySpace or Facebook, 82% include their first name while only 29% include their last name. (For a more in depth list of what teens include in their online profiles, please see the April 2007 Pew report: Teens, Privacy & Online Social Networks found here. However, one can imagine that many of today’s tech-savvy teens have accumulated the skills needed to uncover even the most well-hidden profiles.

While we know that Facebook and MySpace have become vital for many teens and young adults, shouldn’t we consider the fact that these sites are altering some of life’s defining moments? Instead of being filled with wonder and excitement about roommates and college in general, one can now take a virtual tour of their dorm, read their dining hall’s daily menu online, and get a neatly packaged Facebook profile of their future roommate’s likes and dislikes. What’s next for Facebook and new freshmen? Will future incoming students be able to browse a virtual facebook of potential roommates and submit a rank-ordered list to university housing? Will cliques and social circles emerge before the first day of classes even begins? Or maybe, despite all of the technology, student life will be as unpredictable as it was for all the previous generations of college students.