Launched in 2013, Yik Yak has become a humorous and opinionated center of communication on college campuses. And while the Stanford Yak stream may be more cleverly worded than say, the Cal one, it still speaks to the insecurity and desire for validation pervasive in our social media-heavy existence. I know it seems extreme to load this much power into an app that people use casually, but the truth of the matter is that we begin to formulate a divergent identity every time we Yak something we wouldn’t say, or post a picture that doesn’t represent who we are. Through social media applications we not only develop a false sense of identity, but also distance ourselves from real life situations that would further the creation of an authentic self. Every time we look down at our phone to Yak something clever we miss an opportunity to engage with the world.
College life can be isolating. We are living separate lives within the larger life of our institution — grappling with a developing sense of self among many other selves. Within this vulnerable space of development and confusion strikes the beast that is Yik Yak. By providing us with a platform to record anonymous observations about our daily lives, we begin to feel relevant, acknowledged and understood. Our newly minted self is being heard, but by who? We are unable to definitively point to a specific person — we feel as if we are a part of a larger conversation, unbound by the restrictions of real-time dialogue.
Common themes expressed via the Stanford Yik Yak are sexual frustration and loneliness. These are the sorts of topics that weigh, almost secretly, on the minds of academically hard-driving Stanford students. Showcasing the underbelly of the “duck syndrome,” Yik Yaks are honest and raw. They illustrate the fact that we all wrestle with the insecurity of modern day hook-up culture, experience the fleeting sting of a one-night stand. We struggle with feeling low in a place that runs on high-energy achievement. Platforms like Yik Yak allow us to realize that others are experiencing the same confusion and desire for support. But ironically, instead of promoting connectivity, Yik Yak only distances us from the rest of Stanford humanity through its anonymity. We don’t “speak” or “text” with other people on Yik Yak, instead pink mushrooms have conversations with gym socks.
You can make the argument that Yik Yak is a freshman thing, a means of testing out college lingo, feeling your way into something like connectivity on a campus with some 16,136 students. I submit that we were all freshman once, and that more and more we feel a need to prove to each other through our social media identities that we are smart, witty and interesting. Through applications like Yik Yak we have the opportunity to appear to be all of these things — while neglecting to make them so in reality. We spend time crafting our personas in technological platforms so that we don’t have to do the real, flesh work, we and end up developing two opposing identities.
In the end, it is up to us to disconnect from these networks of false connectivity. Through that process we can liberate ourselves from the pressure of developing two identities. We can form genuine bonds through face-to-face conversation, and devote ourselves to the people we are.
Contact Hannah Broderick at inbloom ‘at’ stanford.edu.