by Katie O'Flaherty
So around the end of the last school year I started using this website I had heard of my sister using a lot over her A Levels, which is rather aptly called 'The Student Room'; an online 'room' (aka website) where students of all ages can congregate to discuss politics, subject questions, social issues, and much more. Originally, I only went on to see what other students had thought of our GCSE exams, how they had answered, what their bugbears had been etc., but a few months on, I found myself delving into the other sections of the Student Room, reading and replying to threads on debate and current affairs, and other people's relationship and friendship issues, among many other things. Finding people who empathised with me, wanted to debate with me, or who seemed genuinely grateful for my (a complete stranger's) advice felt rather good.
Not only this, but I realise that I have spent copious amounts of time looking at the university applications threads, seeing what grades people who are applying to my goal-universities gained at GCSE and AS Level, and how they were advertising themselves to the outside world. Very quickly, I could find myself burrowing deeper and deeper into threads full of straight A* students, who played 16 instruments, had already been president of every association known to man, and whose sporting prowess could only be matched by an Olympian. Much as that may be a fractional exaggeration, that's how it began to feel, making me feel ever more out of my depth in a sea of perfect pupils, against whom I would be competing for a place to achieve my goals.
I later encountered a thread on 'Why does everyone on TSR [The Student Room] seem to be a perfect pupil', with someone asking the very same questions I had been asking. The overwhelming answer appeared to be one which is so logical it had slipped right past me; you are not going to post and advertise your grades and achievements unless you're proud of them; thus, in a funny sort of way, a lot of threads had become a peacock festival, of students attempting to have their voice be heard, and be considered 'equal to' or 'better than' that 'average' perfect student; it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
To add to this, helping someone else, from a completely abstract position with no experience of the situation, much as it made me feel happy, and some of my advice genuinely seemed to assist or cheer up people, for the most part just led to me guessing and hoping, and encouraging complete strangers to come to the internet to ask for help with even the smallest things, rather than asking their friends, or resolving the situation using their own experiences - after all, in order to learn from our mistakes we have to make the mistakes first, not just follow on from what everyone else tells you to do.
Overall, much as I still will continue using the Student Room, in the end I prefer a good live debate with friends, or a face to face natter about anything on our minds. The internet can provide an invaluable escape to people, with an anonymity that many people value greatly, however too much of a 'good thing' can almost disassociate you from the real world, and letting yourself escape your problems for too long can just let them build as a pile of wilfully ignored, yet still very present, issues. Thus, the old saying of 'everything in moderation' comes into play here, showing perfectly how too much of a bad thing can start to turn things rapidly in the opposite direction.