Signalling Through Stickers

Peggy Li, Opinion Editor

Sitting in a classroom, I can almost guarantee that at least one person there will have some brightly emblazoned logo on their water bottle, computer or backpack, maybe with the words ‘Patagonia,’ ‘Bernie Sanders’ or ‘Green Dot.’  Some people you know will even have hundreds of stickers piled on top of one another on their possessions in what I think can only be properly described as ‘loud’ signalling. As a member of maybe the one-third of students on campus who eschew such visible displays of affiliation, I can only take wild guesses as to what might lead my peers to participate in such adornment. What really goes into the decision: to sticker or not?

I imagine the first line of defence for those who may feel attacked by such a question is ‘Oh, I had the sticker, why shouldn’t I just use it?’ To which I think, ‘There are so many means to decorate, but you instead choose the sticker.’ The decision ultimately must be a purposeful one, especially as these stickers usually reside on the surfaces of objects with very dear importance to the person. I acknowledge that some people really might sticker willy-nilly without any thought to aesthetics, but I suspect these individuals are in the severe minority compared to those who carefully plan out their projected ‘aesthetic’ on the surface of a computer so that others can understand what kind of person you are based on the stickers. After all, for items that are so visible in class, others are bound to see and make inferences about your character if they recognize the branding of the stickers.

And at the end of the day, isn’t it all about the branding of the stickers? Similarly with clothing, by utilizing stickers, you are, in effect, creating your own personal brand that you are projecting for other people to better understand you. ‘Bernie Sanders’ sticker? Oh, they must be vaguely aware of democratic socialism, and feel quite sad when thinking about the democratic nomination in 2016. But my real issue with that decision to sticker is the implicit shortcut it gives both to yourself and to others in terms of understanding or comprehending character. Obviously a person’s character and personality is so much greater than just their political beliefs or what they choose to project about themselves, but in choosing to sticker one’s possessions with these affiliations, onlookers can so much more easily pigeonhole a person into beliefs they may or may not have.

Sure, stickers can serve as conversation starter, but instead of actually engaging in conversation, I can now look at their possessions for a message I do or don’t agree with, either precluding or pursuing conversation as a result. The stickers eliminate an element of the mystery involved with seeing a person you don’t know, or starting a conversation for the first time. And for the people who choose to sticker relentlessly, I can only wonder what exactly it is that they are trying to say about their personality, and whether they truly know themselves well enough to be putting out a true, dare I say ‘authentic’ version of themselves. Or are they, like anybody else, trying to put out a version of themselves only to hide their own lack of self-knowledge and self-understanding, by instead projecting a protective, superficial layer of branding?