The Internet doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a safe haven for insecurities and personal deficiencies. Unless you’re a member of a specific type of online community, the World Wide Web won’t provide much solace when you’re having a crummy day or feeling short on confidence. Just looking at comments following a YouTube video or an exchange between two Facebook users on a political page is enough to leave Internet users in a stupefied cringe.
Good thing psychology sophomore Molly McElenney created “ASU Compliments,” an anonymous compliment-giving site. ASU students send McElenney personal messages meant for friends or loved ones and she posts them on ASU Compliments’ wall.
In a time when college communities create online versions of “Mean Girls’” burn books, McElenney’s creation is like a virtual yearbook, in which no one is excluded from the feel-good vibes the public site effortlessly sends off. The site cleverly plays around the impersonal nature of online media and makes compliment sharing and positivity-spreading a less socially awkward experience. Students who would otherwise feel uncomfortable sharing deeper feelings of appreciation for friends and family find a creative outlet to voice their unspoken thoughts. ASU Compliments operates under the same Internet rules as other sites on the Internet, but it harnesses the powers of anonymity for the sake of something encouraging and reassuring. Personal barriers fall down on the Internet, licensing users to become extra cruel — but it also gives users an avenue to express tremendous kindness and the deepest appreciation.
Even if you are not the subject of a positive affirmation, you can’t help but feel affected by the optimism. In times when cyber bullying seems most destructive, McElenney’s website offers nuggets of humanity in a place where one least expects to find it: the Internet. Young adults can often feel acutely perceptive to the negative, weary of judgments from peers who hone in on the smallest of social cues. ASU Compliments reminds us that people do feel and think things that are nice, compassionate and kind — even if they have a hard time expressing them in live in-person exchanges. When twenty somethings can feel apprehensive interacting with new people, crippled by the fear of judgmental peers, ASU Compliments might even do a few things to ease the anxiety.
Perhaps the more pressing question is why Internet users prefer social media as a primary mode of expressing compliments or kindness. It would seem to be the most direct method of communicating sympathy or sharing compassion, but perhaps the members of our generation feel a little more comfortable remaining a few steps removed from the whole equation. Whatever the reason is, ASU Compliments reminds us it isn’t too hard to brighten someone’s day. Commit an act of kindness today and pay it forward.
Want to join the conversation? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep letters under 300 words and be sure to include your university affiliation. Anonymity will not be granted.