With UCD being as large and daunting as ever, as term begins Community Manager at WorldIrish and prolific Twitterer, Darragh Doyle explains why creating your own community is one of the most important things you can do with your time at UCD
University College Dublin, 1997. I was there at least seven months before I found out there was a bar on campus. Then I found out there were at least two. I’d missed that year’s RAG Week and the Freshers’ introductions and any sort of induction, so I wandered the campus alone, awkwardly, shy, and not really getting it.
I didn’t get how people made friends; how they got to know people they didn’t go to secondary school with or how they joined societies. Home to Lecture Halls to Tutorials to Library became my routine. I was invisible; I barely talked to anyone and I never got involved. I didn’t make friends so I didn’t have any. I regret it to this day.
I wonder if my experience of Dublin and of Ireland now would be different if I had immersed myself in university culture. The societies, the outings and the clubs were all mysteries to me. I never asked, I never knew who to ask, but I wonder in terms of friends, social life and career, would I be better off now?
This is difficult to ascertain simply because in the 15 years since, I’ve learned two (relevant) things: every problem is an opportunity and we make our own communities.
I live an online life that feeds my offline life. Feeds, improves, informs and creates. I help people online. It’s my job, my passion and it’s what I’m good at. I help people find communities to be part of. I didn’t learn this in school or university and I work at it every single day, trying to learn to perfect the craft.
The people that I help, work with, advise or promote become part of my own community. I work with communities online and offline and I feel part of many, and am aware of and familiar with many more. It’s nice to belong to one, especially when you’re away from home, but really it’s a relatively simple thing to become part of one or two or many. Simple, but it needs work.
I discovered theatre relatively recently and know a lot of theatre-makers in the country. I regularly work with broadcasters and journalists and so have adopted them into my community. I spend time with those online: the bloggers, the snappers, the news-hounds, the vloggers, the podcasters, the Facebookers, the Instagrammers, the Redditors, the Boardsies and the Twitterers, and contribute there regularly. I volunteer to help with events and with festivals and I’m generally out and about doing something cultural. I’ll wander through Dublin and know people in shops, venues, cafés, galleries and more by name. I fund arts, craft, music and theatre projects over on FundIt.ie. I’m now known to a lot of people for who I am and what I do. Isn’t that great? Amn’t I great?
Well no. See, that’s not the point here. I’m very much not. You can know all the people you like but it’s when you’re wandering through Belfield, or even the city centre, with a phone full of contacts and an app full of followers and yet no one to go for a coffee with, that you have to question how you do what you do.
Anything I can do, you can do better. I honestly believe that I fail more than I succeed. That’s a mixture of biting off more than I can chew and not having time to follow through on good intentions. I try, I fail, but keep on trying. It is something though that you can avoid quite easily. Just evaluate the benefit to you, to others and to the world of what you’re asked to do. As wanky as that sounds, it’s advice I wish I had in 1997.
I’m currently working on a project to bring together Irish people all over the world and people who love Irishness on one digital platform. There’s some 70 million or so out there who have a need for information, interaction, entertainment and involvement and we’re working to bring that to them. I’m hoping the online application of this has huge impact offline. In the same way as couples that met on dating websites are having babies; it would be great to think that people who interact online can end up happy together.
Here’s where I present a challenge or opportunity to you, wherever you’re reading this and whatever you’re intending to do for the rest of the day, the week, the term or your life. It’s something for others and something for you. It’s about building a community around yourself.
Make someone’s day better. As grandiose as that sounds, as potentially unachievable for the shy, those of you who don’t know others and you, yes you, the socially awkward one who wouldn’t, as the mammy would describe you, say boo to a goose; you have the potential to be popular, funny and brilliant, if only someone would talk to you and recognise it inside you, it’s something incredibly easy to do and could lead on to many great things.
Make someone’s day better. Tweet a bad joke. Take a photo and share it online. Smile at the next person you see. Text someone you haven’t texted but keep meaning to. Tell someone they’re looking well today. Say thank you to the person giving you your coffee. Leave the accommodation you live in tidy. Wash up after your flat mate. Ring your Da and see how he is. Offer to help out with an upcoming DramSoc play. Tell someone that you’re going through the exact same thing as them and how you’re dealing with it. See if you can help at the Observer. Check if any societies are doing charity work you could help out with. Write a positive review of something. Congratulate someone. Give someone a hug.
Make someone’s day better. I never took the opportunity to do that when I was in UCD. I never looked for the opportunities to do it, never felt confident enough to give it a go and, critically, never had the devices that I could connect with, never had the websites, the internet access or the ease at which I could share my ideas, stories, creativity or just the stuff I was finding on the internet that made me smile. I never knew how to do it or that I could do it. I never knew how easy it was, but I do now.
This isn’t about saving a life or changing someone’s perspective. It’s not about being a hero or even making the world a better place. It mightn’t have any benefit other than distracting someone from their day-to-day drudge, from the loneliness of Belfield, from the unease of first year or their complacency in the monotony of existence or even their personal struggles as they get through the daily grind. They may not deserve it, but none of that matters. You do. If it makes anyone feel good, it’ll make you feel good. That’s important. Who knows, it could start a friendship. It could get you into a community. It could start one.
Make someone’s day better. Don’t believe this is possible? Tweet me @darraghdoyle. Challenge me to make your day better. If I can do it in 140 characters or less, you can do it too. You can do it better.
Darragh Doyle has a blue nose on Twitter. He is the Community Manager of WorldIrish.com and is only a Google search away. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.