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Yik Yak shows desire for authentic community within U.

Talking Back to the Yakity Yak

When William D. Cohen of the New York Times asked Jim Goetz, partner at Sequoia Capital venture capitalist firm, why he chose to invest in Yik Yak, he responded, “Yik Yak has tapped our desire to connect authentically with those around us. Its hyper-local forums provide a sense of community and a place to be our genuine selves, and that’s really resonated with millions of people, myself included.” 

Putting this quote side-by-side with some of the yaks on the University feed probably elicits some eye rolls. Indubitably, “How many girls like being dominated in bed” opens a meaningful forum for community engagement and, “Onion rings are just vegetable donuts,” is a powerful expression of selfhood. All jokes aside, it’s easy to dismiss Goetz’s sentiment as a cheap, PR-driven talking point, and it probably was, but something about the idea of “connect(ing) authenticity” actually did resonate with me. 

We, as University students, are situated in a place and time that makes us crave authenticity from within our community. Uncontrollable forces constantly shape outsiders’ perceptions of our communities and are often poorly constructed and disingenuous. For example, take the media frenzy surrounding the ban on greek life parties. The media creates a narrative about our school that is pigeonholed by isolated incidents, but to that guy from your high school who goes to Penn State, this doesn’t matter: His “safety school” is laughable, filled with dumb kids who only care about partying. The same truth holds for any sort of stereotype, and always has, but in an age of information overload, discerning fact from fiction seems impossible, even when it comes to our own self-perception.

Moreover, isn’t college supposed to be the space where we “find out who we are?” In this sense, we can’t afford inauthenticity, even when the administration lumps us into a homogenous group of “gentlepeople.” We start off college like a fresh stick of gum, and surely, the pressures of our world chomp down on us like a mean set of molars. Now it’s April, and here we are, hanging on to last little bit of flavor in our bones, anxious for the day to come when the University spits us out in the real world. One tap on the Yak’s hairy face shows us how these anxieties are playing out. Some joke about it, with posts such as “New yoga position, downward spiraling life.” But others seem downright distraught, such as, “Trying to understand the point of life, whatever it may be, just feels so depressing.” It’s sad that our University forum basically shows that the entire community is facing a simultaneous existential crisis. But in a way, this is cathartic, knowing that we are, genuinely, not alone. And likewise, we need to be shown that our authentic expressions of self have merit. We need that upvote to tickle the reward center of the brain, that comment to validate our unspoken opinion.

According to a study led by Nielsen Holdings N.V., “The Millennial generation wants to be a part of a larger conversation. They want to make individual contributions and be connected and woven into a larger discussion." Yik Yak has presented itself as a space to fulfill these desires, whether the conversation revolves around bus drivers or Brower. However, is Yik Yak really the best space for finding authentic connections within the community? Well, it’s a start. 

Yik Yik articulates that most of us can be united by a common experience, whether it be stressing over an exam, finding a post-grad job or hating Penn State. Bringing these connections to the world beyond our cell phone screens is definitely possible, without even subjecting ourselves to using Friendsy. The discussions that are had within the app could easily be sparked with the person sitting next to us on the bus or standing next to us in the takeout line. The call to make real life connections with other people sounds cheesy, I know, but the fact is: we don’t. Framing interactions with strangers around an app somehow makes it okay, but we should be willing to explore the possibility of going beyond that. We’re all in this together, and we need to give each other a real “sense of community and a place to be our genuine selves.”

I noticed today that one yakker made the effort to post, “In case no one told you today, you are good enough and you matter.” Now imagine the effect it would have if it was said rather than typed. But hey, as I said, it’s a start.

Alexandra R. Meier is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in journalism and media studies with a minor in anthropology. She is a former Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Targum. Her column “Talking Back to the Yakity Yak,” runs monthly on Thursdays.

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