Moving beyond the template

My name is Mia Nicole Shaw, and I was born and raised in San Francisco, Calif. I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be coming across the bridge to Berkeley in the fall as part of the class of 2016! I plan to major in economics and minor in human rights. A vegetarian of seven years, I’m of mixed race, and I despise tomatoes. My hobbies include writing, singing, volunteering, meeting new people and learning new things!

That’s my spiel. Do you like it?

I don’t. If that’s what people take away from meeting me, then they still don’t know me at all. All they know is a bunch of trivial information that no one’s really interested in. And if that’s the last time I talk to them, I’ve really just wasted our time.

I really hadn’t realized just how difficult the process of meeting new people was until I came to a university as large as Berkeley and had to start doing it myself. To almost everyone, every day.

After the first few dozen times, I realized that there was something of a template for how almost each and every conversation I had when interacting with my fellow incoming freshmen would go:

Hi! It’s nice to meet you. Where are you from? Oh, wow, that’s so cool. What are you majoring in? What clubs are you in? That’s so cool. I’ve always been interested in that. Anyway, it’s been nice meeting you. Yeah, for sure, I’ll find you on Facebook! Okay. All right. Bye-bye.

You repeat information about yourself again and again and find yourself trying to establish yourself as “unique” as you’re stuck in a crowd of other “unique” faces. Suddenly, it isn’t really about meeting new people. Sure, we’re eager to meet everyone — but mostly that’s because we’re curious about how we’ll fit in. We all want others to see us for who we are and not just as another face in a crowd. We have to label ourselves, market ourselves. It’s easy to get swept away in the process of trying to meet as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. It isn’t about them so much as it is about you. It ends up being very … fake.

The repetitiveness of the small-talk conversations aren’t bad in and of themselves, so long as they’re followed up with something. If they’re used for the sake of an introduction to what will eventually lead to a meaningful friendship, fantastic. But it’s when they aren’t — and they often aren’t — that the artificiality of the conversation is absolutely useless.

And it’s only gotten worse with the Internet, with social networks. In my mind, the fact that these sites have gotten so popular just encourages people to not really know each other and to not necessarily feel the need to. As far as Facebook friends? For many a wannabe-popular kid, it’s all about quantity, not quality.

As someone who’s been in a small-talk relationship, let me tell you: Texting someone for three months doesn’t count as “getting to know them,” and knowing his favorite color, animal and food doesn’t mean you’re close. It just means you know that the crazy person you wish you knew was crazy prior to your trainwreck of a date likes green, anteaters and lasagna. These things aren’t always apparent.

For these reasons, I strongly disliked the template for a while. I thought that the artificiality of these relationships and the goal of racking up “friends” like collectibles was a little twisted. I’d like to say that I don’t mind it so much anymore and that I’ve gotten used to it with time. I’d like to say that it’s perfectly all right, because treating people in that way is clearly justified by the fast-paced modern world we now live in, because we’re all just trying to establish ourselves. But I can’t say that, because I’d be lying.

So tell me, how are you supposed to describe yourself in a few short sentences? What do you tell people? How can we make up for the fact that it is a challenging process, meeting new people? Trying to show them who you are?

Well, we could start by devoting time to building real relationships, by expressing genuine interest in the lives of others, by not treating human beings like a commodity. Each one of the people we meet has an interesting story to tell. We could take some time out of our busy lives to ask about it. Not do it over the Internet. Really listen. Maybe we can learn something that’s worth more than all the Facebook friends in the world.

My name is Mia Nicole Shaw, and I was born and raised in San Francisco, Calif. I’m quirky, eccentric, accepting and enthusiastic about the world. It’s nice to meet you. I’d really like to get to know you more.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012 – The Daily Californian – CaliforMiacation

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