"These pages represent the closest thing our University may have to a manifestation of some kind of a collective culture"Eden Keily-Thurstain

A grim spectre has come into my life recently: a routine. Not one that involves a productive mix of engaging in my lectures, going out for a run, or leaving the house most days. I sit down at my desk at around 10, tea in hand, with the intention of starting work. Instead, I end up on Facebook. I find immense gratification in the swathe of Facebook pages relating to the University. However, until now, these pages seemed little more than a distraction, something to waste five minutes on before I could bring myself to start my work.

But spending my whole time at University so far in a pandemic, and a sizable chunk of it confined to the wretched indoors, made something occur to me. For a fresher who hasn’t had the breadth of opportunity to experience Cambridge life to its fullest yet, these Facebook pages have been a way to connect to a community I have had little opportunity to actually see so far. The anonymity these pages provide has a certain mystique, an ability to conjure an image of a unified face for what is in reality a disparate community. There is no barrier to entry, no social atmosphere to acclimate oneself to.

“Maybe Cambridge’s Facebook pages have such a powerful influence because of the sheer breadth of feeling they cover.”

Instead, what these pages represent is the closest thing our University may have to a manifestation of some kind of a collective culture. These pages are founded on, and rely on, the innate emotional resonance of what their pages represent: the desire to share in humour, to search for the prospect of intimacy, or simply to feel part of a community where there is no exclusivity. The description of relatable experiences, be it lectures or the quirks of colleges, allowed me to vicariously explore the experiences of others, regardless of whether I had actually done anything similar.

Equally, one may take comfort in the fact their difficulties with Cambridge life are not unique, that others are suffering as well. The ability to express one’s personal issues anonymously is immensely powerful. It gives people the chance to be heard while keeping distant the often unconscious, subdued stigmas still present when discussing mental health or other problems. Maybe Cambridge’s Facebook pages have such a powerful influence because of the sheer breadth of feeling they cover. What is taken from them is what the user wishes to, while still being part of a wider community.

From these pages, I have been able to justify my laughable productivity by seeing people worrying about their own as well. It is a far more comforting prospect to know that the constant feeling that nothing is getting done is one I do not hold in solitude. I have learnt that people, when given a shadow of anonymity, can be endlessly petty, and that the only way I may actually receive a Crushbridge is if I write it for myself. I myself have posted a few times on these pages, as many have. The feeling of seeing your own post on a page for all to see is probably the greatest pull of all. It is a brief chance for fame and attention. My apparent wit, or sincerity, or whatever has ended up on there, is available for all to see.


Mountain View

Breaking the habits of lockdown

Attention and acceptance, I believe, is therefore the unspoken mythos which allows for this endless list of pages to thrive. That this sense is artificially manufactured to a degree, given that pages are effectively curated through moderators choosing what gets posted, does raise some questions in my mind. To what degree are we getting a genuine reflection of the diversity of feeling present within the University? Is that even important, so long as we enjoy the content anyway?

Strangely enough, I believe my perceptions of the University’s senior leadership have been influenced by Camfess more than anything else. For all I know, Professor Toope is indeed everything he is in his myriad of memes: secretly enjoying Cindies or Sunday Life; preparing himself for dealing with Coronavirus by means of some TooPPE, or informing us of our impending doom by signing off with a teasingly intimate “Stephen”. I wonder if the Vice-Chancellor becoming a meme reflects on the distance that often feels prominent between students and those guiding us through these unprecedented times. Lampooning those in positions of power is a freeing prospect because it reasserts a level of control back into the hands of students. I find that notion cathartic. We may not be able to control whether finalists get a safety net this year, but we can make light of the situation and in doing so, control the image of figures who would otherwise seem unreachable.

I may be reading too much into the power of Facebook pages. I may be granting them an undue level of influence in how they shape my University experience. But at the very least, much like these pages, writing this has proven both a good distraction from work and provided the chance to reflect on some unspoken parts of University life. I am sad that my experiences of Cambridge have been limited by the situation we are in to sitting in front of a laptop for most of the day, that I am now restricted entirely to home. If there is one thing I desire, it’s some kind of respite. At least I know where I can go to find that.