Like A Little, WhitmanEncounters can’t take place of real, sincere interaction

This column was written by Rollo.

“At Whitman, we need no help finding attractive people. Yet a theme of desperation pervades our culture, and the encounters that take place between us often lack the depth and meaning we seek,” says the new website WhitmanEncounters.com in its abstract.

Created, apparently, as a response to the  Like A Little phenomenon happening on campus, Whitman Encounters gives users new degrees of freedom. The site allows users to create their own descriptive and quirky “To” and “From” lines (an upgrade from “Brunette Guy” and “Blonde Girl”), as well as provides them with the option of including an anonymous email address with their post. As of now, however, Whitman Encounters does not provide a chat function on its site.

The Encounters administrators distinguish their site from Facebook and Like A Little with this statement:

”  [Encounters] fills a need that no other site, lecture, or event has. While Facebook, as a network of profiles, leads us to construct a parallel life in the cybersphere, Encounters is based on, drawn from, and leading toward real-world relations. LikeALittle, limited by arbitrary parameters and gender binaries, encourages a game of hide-and-seek where the goal is to peek: to “flirt”: without being seen. Encounters, instead, encourages the kind of written contact that might spur a meaningful friendship, where anonymity is a crutch that facilitates and ultimately gives way to openness.”

Aside from just basic flirting, posts on both sites are used for a variety of purposes, such as giving hints to crushes, setting up blind dates and even conducting short personal surveys (my personal favorite: “. . . do white chicks consider Indians to be attractive in any way???”).

It appears, however, that Whitman Encounters is making an attempt to invite and inspire more insightful interactions between students. This attempt has been relatively successful, and students are using the site as a space to comment extensively on issues such as gender and the dating culture at Whitman.

What is important to remember, though, is to take each site for what it is and nothing more than that. They are both fun and entertaining, and maybe even sometimes effective at initiating meaningful conversations. For those reasons alone, both are worthy of being appreciated as tools for students on this campus to use when they’ve got something to say, but don’t know how or where. However, hoping for anything more of them than that is a reflection of hasty judgment and unrealistic expectations, which can create a dependency on these sites that they don’t quite deserve.

Regardless of the structure of these sites or the way in which they are used by students, there is no form of electronic communication that can replace real-life interactions. Even the first few spontaneous moments you have with a person can be immensely important in the relationship you later build with him or her. By having these interactions on the internet, you lose the opportunity to create those genuine, lasting memories, because it’s unlikely that you’re going to remember a confession or pick-up line on Like A Little the same way you remember the time you studied with that cute person in your philosophy class and made bad Kant jokes during a late night in the library.

So, while both Like a Little and Whitman Encounters can be endlessly entertaining when you’re trying to procrastinate, the issues trying to be solved on the site, both personal and campus-wide, are greater than the sites themselves. They cannot serve as substitutes for real-life interactions or creating change through action, and they become harmful and misguiding when we start to hope that they can.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The above statement from the Whitman Encounters administrators has been removed from the website; the “Abstract” page URL has changed from whitmanencounters.com/manifesto to whitmanencounters.com/about. Updated 2/24 1:12 a.m.