The real uses of the freshman facebook

Kimra Mcpherson

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Jeremy Chao is not, in fact, an Arabian prince.

But the Weinberg and Music freshman’s picture in this year’s freshman facebook – actually a snapshot taken during his high school’s production of the musical “Kismet” – would seem to suggest otherwise.

“I knew lots of people were going to send in their senior pictures, and they were going to be in tuxes and stuff like that,” he said. “This is me with this penciled-on beard, obviously very fake. I thought that would be the perfect thing to send in.”

Some posed in costume, others in prom gowns. Some held animals, others held tubas. But regardless of the details, Chao and 1,530 other freshmen submitted their pictures, hometowns and interests to the student picture book this summer, giving the student body its first glimpse of Northwestern’s class of 2005.

The facebook is “highly treasured and extremely popular,” said University Archivist Patrick Quinn. Since the beginning of new student week, more than 1,000 copies of the book have been sold to freshmen and upperclassmen alike, according to Debra Blade, assistant director for building services at Norris University Center.

And since its inception in 1974, the yearbook-in-reverse has been used for a variety of legitimate — and somewhat-less-legitimate — activities.

“We used to have males walk in and ask for the ‘dog book'” so they could scope out the hottest freshman girls,” Quinn said. “That was not politically correct, so the term ceased being used.”

But that hardly means the activity of looking for pretty faces on the book’s pages also ended.

“I have friends who go through and look for cute guys,” said Sara Feinstein, a Weinberg freshman who denies any such activity on her part.

But she admits she’s been looked up.

“It’s happened,” she said. “I’ve gotten some random (Instant Messages).”

Many freshmen say the facebook invites stalking, allowing anybody with a copy to flip through, find an attractive picture and ph the potential sweetheart on NU’s Web site. But some have been able to resist the temptation — so far.

“I haven’t done the whole cliche ‘she’s cute, she’s cute, don’t know her but she’s cute’ thing yet,” Chao said. “There’s still time in the quarter. The freshman facebook should be separated into blonde and brunette and cute.”

Weinberg freshman Laura Shact said she’s heard rumors of participation in “facebook games” — getting to know one person on each of the book’s 63 picture pages, for example — and of potential couples being introduced after one lovebird’s picture sparked the other’s interest.

But she said she hasn’t been the perpetrator of any such activities.

“I haven’t even ph’ed anyone!” she said.

Of course, finding love amid the sea of photocopied black-and-white pictures was not the facebook’s original purpose.

“It helps reinforce the college-type atmosphere at the university,” Quinn said. “It makes it a little less impersonal.”

In the facebook’s first years, students and faculty members received the book as a free gift from the Northwestern University Alumni Association before even setting foot on campus, Quinn said. That enabled professors to associate faces with the names on their class lists and students to learn the interests of the other members of their peer advising group.

Now sold for $5.50 to incoming freshmen and $8 to others, the facebooks are not released until September. But that hasn’t made them any less sought-after, Quinn said.

Despite stories of sketchy facebook hook-ups and long evenings spent ph’ing peers, some freshmen still say the facebook serves a positive purpose.

When Medill freshman Andy Wade spotted a familiar-looking fellow moving into his dorm, he grabbed a facebook and looked for his picture. Sure enough, the two had played tennis against each other in a high school tournament.

“I ended up ph’ing him,” Wade said. “We went out and played tennis the other day.”

Feinstein said she keeps tabs on how many people she knows in the class by highlighting their names — until her parents took her copy home, that is.

“My parents were very happy that they had it,” she said. “I guess they feel that they can try to talk to me about people — even though I don’t know them.”

And Chao said his picture has definitely helped to start otherwise-awkward conversations. But he won’t be setting up dates through the facebook anytime soon.

“It seems kind of skeezy to me,” he said. nyou

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