There is a new way University of Michigan students are virtually interacting this semester aside from the relatively new expectations of an online education — the Instagram account Michigan Missed Connections (@michiganmissedconnections). The account posts anonymous stories submitted by students about an interaction with a stranger that did not last long enough or that did not happen at all. To appear on the Michigan Missed Connections account, students typically direct message the account with details about such an interaction. Students can claim responsibility for being one of the strangers mentioned in the posts by commenting on the post or privately messaging the account to be connected with the sender.
To learn more about the inspiration behind the account, I spoke with the Michigan Missed Connections creators over Zoom, who have chosen to remain anonymous to remain unidentifiable by their followers.
The three creators of Michigan Missed Connections started the account for a class project in Psychology 223: Entrepreneurial Creativity. The creators shared their initial objectives of the account, citing account growth and user engagement as factors of importance.
“Our project has been starting the account, tracking its growth and trying to gain as many followers and user engagement as we can,” Creator 2 said. “It has been our project to make Michigan Missed Connections blow up, make a real impact and connect people while acting as a source of entertainment for our followers.”
Since first posting in February of this year, Michigan Missed Connections has amassed over 2,200 followers on Instagram and has posted over 100 messages from students in search of regaining missed connections. The content and tone of the posts vary, with some yearning to find an attractive student from a brief encounter on a street corner, and others criticizing students for failing to wash their hands in the Michigan Union bathroom.
However, not every post aims to foster a lasting connection between students — some posts send compliments into the void and others share funny moments from around campus that, in video form, usually make their way onto other U-M social media. That being said, Michigan Missed Connections may fulfill a unique niche that may have not existed without social media, while serving the potential purpose of providing a new space for students to make connections. One of the creators explained how they think their account differs from the content and sentiments of other popular U-M accounts like Barstool U-M (@barstooluofm) and Michigan Chicks (@michiganchicks).
“I think, in some ways, our content is more relatable,” Creator 1 said. “(The posts show) everyday life, the funny little things that happen, whereas other accounts are more selective about what they post. On our account, people are always tagging their friends and asking if (they are the person described in the post). I think it builds a smaller community.”
When discussing how they decide what to post, the creators explained that they post the vast majority of student submissions, while being careful to avoid offensive content. They additionally filter out submissions that are not specific enough to have any hope of finding a student or serving as entertainment, and they also remove any personal information.
“In terms of things that are inappropriate with a curse word or something, we will totally post that,” Creator 2 said. Creator 1 added that they, in part, share content on the more crude side because “those are things that people like to see — and things that are more inappropriate or vulgar or real — the posts that get the most likes, sometimes are the funniest.”
So far, all posts have consisted of screenshots of the submissions students have sent in, which may reflect the appeal of the account.
“I think posting the actual screenshot of the message is better because it is raw and real, and you are seeing it how it is,” Creator 1 said.
The posts capture all kinds of unfiltered little moments that now, with social interaction at an all time low for many, invoke a sense of nostalgia. By reading about brief encounters or observations, no matter how silly or unspecific, students both on and off-campus can revitalize their hopes for when passing an attractive stranger in front of the Michigan Union will be, once again, an everyday occurrence. However, at the same time, Michigan Missed Connections serves to reunite people in ways that may not have been possible without it.
One of the creators shared that her friend sent in a submission about a lost earring, which was later found and returned to her — a connection solely made possible by the account.
“A lot of our other friends have made these connections that seem one in a million, but then we find out something like this actually works,” Creator 2 said. “I think these revelations show how powerful social media is.”
In this way, Michigan Missed Connections may act as a community resource that not only helps people find lost earrings or apartment keys, but that also functions to foster connections that would otherwise be forever lost.
Though Michigan Missed Connections has much to offer our ever-virtual student body, interacting with its posts has led me to contemplate the semantics of what constitutes a missed connection in comparison to a second chance. Many posts searching for students from brief encounters — such as shared smiles across study spaces or a fleeting conversation in the Landmark apartment building elevator — indicate that there was a connection made, but it was not pursued enough while in-person to learn a name or acquire a phone number. In these cases, students have decided to reach out virtually, rather than to pursue a connection in-person when they had a chance to do so. Though the pandemic and following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines are reasons for students not to interact with others at all, the instances in which students were already in close quarters beg the question of why a virtual connection was necessary to maintain the connection.
When asking these questions, it is important to note Michigan Missed Connections is not a one-of-a-kind account. From my conversation with the U-M account creators, I learned that numerous universities across the country have their own student-run accounts for missed connections. Tulane University’s account, Tulane Missed Connections (@tulanemissedconnections), has made over 800 posts since starting in August 2019. Stanford’s private account, Stanford Missed Connections (@stanfordmissedconnections), boasts over 3,500 posts (more than one for every two of its undergraduate students). Numerous universities of all sizes, from the University of Connecticut Missed Connections (@uconn_missedconnections), to Clark University Missed Connections (@clarkumissedconnections) have created this kind of platform, amassing thousands of followers and hundreds of student submissions. The popularity of Michigan Missed Connections invites a conversation about the University’s study body — but the popularity of missed connections accounts themselves encourages the asking of greater questions about our generation and its relationship with social media.
How is social media evolving with us in our culture and what is the role of accounts like Michigan Missed Connections in our ever-changing, digital world? From the popularity of these platforms and the nature of their posts, it seems that many students perceive social media as a perfectly valid way to foster these types of connections that they failed to foster in-person, for a variety of reasons.
Creator 3 spoke on the possibility of students using the account to avoid reaching out in-person.
“For some people, I think there is definitely more confidence behind the phone,” Creator 3 said. “Some people can find the words to type out a submission rather than approaching someone in person.”
Of course, this was true for many before the pandemic, but the social isolation and its impacts throughout the past year may cause social anxiety to rise, making an initial, digital connection much more appealing to many.
The validity of social media as a way to make connections may coincide with the increasing role of social media in our lives more generally. Of course, the changes in social media use throughout the pandemic vary between each person, but overall, the use of social media has increased for several platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and TikTok. If time is an investment, and people are spending more time on social media, it makes sense that people are placing more value in their virtual interactions than ever, especially when considering the circumstances that have led to the increase in use.
It remains to be seen how people will interact when it is safe to do so, maskless and less than six feet apart, but that does not mean we should not think about it ahead of time. When the time comes, there will be research on the changes to each generation’s psychology and perhaps increasing rates of social anxiety. Nevertheless, we can consider how we as individuals choose to interact, and the way it contributes to the broader conversation of how we exist and interact in an increasingly populated, complex, digitized world.
At the end of the day, who knows if it is better to virtually show your sympathy for a stranger crying in the Fishbowl instead of approaching them with a smile and a tissue. Who knows if it is better to publicly shame a litterer or to criticize them anonymously. Perhaps there are many situations in which posting virtually and anonymously is safer, kinder and more effective. Yet at the same time, sending a few sentences into the virtual universe is not a sure thing, and in some way, undermines the beauty and spontaneity of in-person, human interaction in the here and now.
Even so, the account will continue to exist and foster connections. In this most simple way, I think Michigan Missed Connections has reason to stay. I could go on about the semantics of second chances and missed connections, or the implications of the digitization of our generation, but, while we are living, we cannot stop making decisions. There are connections to be made everywhere in every way. Perhaps all missed connections breed opportunity for second chances, and, in-person or online, it is better to have a second chance compared to no chance at all.
Statement Columnist Leah Leszczynski can be reached at email@example.com.