UNC's Sticky Situation

Strolling through Davis or the UL on your average school night and most of us would probably not even notice. We've been immersed in the practice for so long that the oddity of it all has actually... stuck... with us. Stickers are everywhere on this campus, especially on the backs of laptops and water bottles. Perhaps this "sticker culture" is unique to UNC or maybe it's an omnipresent phenomenon on all college campuses across the country. Just from a brief visual scan across the lit up MacBooks in Davis it is obvious that UNC students are obsessed with stickers. Wanting to know more, a team of one DTH digital staffer ventured out into the cold wet world that was UNC's campus last week to conduct extremely unscientific research to find out what's at the core of this "sticker culture." 

According to a survey given to UNC students over a three day period last week, 71% of UNC students have stickers on either their laptop or water bottle. Looking more closely at the number it was discovered that 60% of students only put stickers on their laptops while just 29% only place stickers on their water bottles, with an 11% overlap of students who do both. This led the team's decision to hone in on the use of stickers on laptops.

We had the numbers but we didn't have the reasoning so we did the most logical thing: we asked students why they did or did not choose to put stickers on their laptops and here's what they had to say. 

Kacey Rigsby, a first-year student from Clemmons, NC provided a simple explanation for the seven stickers on her laptop: “Basically, it’s just for self expression.” But according to sophomore Sibusisiwe Dlangalala this form of self expression is not something performed lightly. “I only put the stickers with things that mean a lot to me on my laptop,” explained Dlangalala, “A spot on my laptop is earned, not given.”

Using the back of your laptop as a mobile billboard to promote your personality and the organizations you care about seems like a fair explanation. In fact, 47% of respondents with at least one sticker on their laptop report having stickers related to a UNC organization and 51% reported having stickers that represented a brand or a company such as Patagonia or Whole Foods. First-year Kameron Southerland from Jacksonville, FL, uses stickers on her laptop to “hopefully meet people who share the same interests as (her)”.

But not every student with stickers is attempting to use their laptop as a personal advertisement for a cause or brand. Some students are turning to stickers to make their laptop stand out among the rest. Apple laptops are the most popular laptop for UNC students with 67% of survey respondents reporting to have a MacBook. One could easily imagine the frustration of trying to find a way to make your MacBook stand out when by default it’s basically ‘just another face in the crowd’. Junior Katie Edmiston said having stickers on her laptop “personalizes it and makes it… less generic,” which seems to be a shared practical motive among students for decorating their laptops.

44% of students with "stickered" laptops, such as sophomore Bronwyn Bishop from Holly Springs, NC, report having stickers that are there for no reason other than aesthetic pleasure and consider the back of their laptop screen to be a place to put things that will make them smile. “I like to see Jimmy Fallon wearing a flower crown as I open my laptop to do work,” said Bishop, “He gives me motivation and makes me better.”

Another shared sentiment from survey respondents around the reasoning for plastering so many stickers to the back of an expensive piece of technology is best expressed by sophomore Dottie Blyth from Chapel Hill, NC: “I don’t know where else I would put them!” Water bottles are another popular place to put stickers but the practice is not as widespread with only 29% of survey respondents reporting to have stickers on their water bottles whereas 60% of respondents report having stickers on their laptop. It would appear that putting stickers on water bottles is not as socially dominant, and therefore acceptable, as placing stickers on water bottles in the eyes of our peers.

First-year Elijah Watson admitted his relationship with stickers changed after coming to UNC. "I would be lying if I said that seeing other students with stickers on their laptops didn't affect my decision to do the same,” he said. “Prior to coming to UNC I never had stickers on my laptop or water bottle. In fact, I didn't really do anything with stickers besides place them in a drawer." 

John Vollmer, a sophomore from Boone, N.C., also experienced feeling a need to assimilate into the college culture at UNC and expressed that. “After a couple of weeks here during my first-year, everyone seemed to be (putting stickers on their laptops)."

Interestingly, the data collected from the survey could possibly corroborate this sentiment quantitatively. In the survey data, 56% of first-year students report having stickers on either their laptop or water bottle while the percentage of sophomores (75%), juniors (76%) and seniors (72%) who report the same is significantly higher. Now, this does not necessarily mean that first-year students put stickers on their laptops and/or water bottles because they feel pressured by upperclassman to do so- but it’s totally plausible. Another plausible theory is that you are more likely to have stickers on your laptop the longer you’re a student here because you are more likely to get involved with different things over the years here.

However, not everyone is hopping on the sticker bandwagon. Senior Burhan Kadibhai does not have a single sticker on his laptop because he is does “not want to damage it.” Several survey respondents who reported not having any stickers on their laptops cited possible damage as their main reasoning for abstaining for the practice. Students who have stickers on their laptops say they aren’t worried about possible damage with the modern chemical and technological advancements made in the sticker-removal industry. Junior Linnea Magdalene Ilgen Lieth doesn’t fear possible damage and says “I have removed stickers in the past… and simply cleaned my laptop with Goo-Gone or something like (that), which removes the residue completely.”

Perhaps Goo-Gone could be the saving grace for students who refrain from using stickers on their laptops out of fear of later changing their minds about what the sticker represents. “(Stickers) feel too permanent,” shared junior Tori Placentra, “What if I change my opinions about the organizations (or) topics the stickers address?” 

For first-year Joseph Held the fear of commitment with stickers is real. “My sticker-free laptop may be a sign of my fear of commitment because I have yet to find one worthy enough to be permanently stuck to a $1,000 MacBook.”

A lack of laptop worthy stickers is a common sentiment among those without stickers on their laptops.

Sophomore Cameron Cooper expressed his frustration with the limited supply of basic stickers on campus. “I never felt the urge. I feel like random stickers don't represent me as a person, so I would have to buy some fire stickers online and ain't nobody got time for that.”

Although this Cooper may not have the patience or resources for online sticker shopping, there are some survey respondents who certainly do. About 76% of survey respondents with stickers on their laptop report having paid for a sticker in the past, all ranging from $1 to more than $5 per sticker.

Besides being unable to find stickers to adequately expressive oneself, some anti-sticker students consider stickers to be unsightly in certain settings.

Sophomore Roshni Verma commented on the appropriateness of stickers in certain situations. "The sticker culture has become a great way for students to express themselves. However, what you choose to show off can say a lot about you and can sometimes appear unprofessional if in a professional setting," she said.

Other anti-sticker students consider stickers to always be unsightly regardless of the setting, citing that stickers would disrupt the default sleek appearance of their MacBook. “To quote the ever wise Kim Kardashian, ‘Why would you put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?’” proposed senior Spanish exchange student María Peña Echeverría.

A select few anti-sticker students are not actually sure why they are anti-sticker and are doing some deep soul searching to find the answer. Senior Sarah Kaylan Butler reflected on her childhood.  “I think it stems from getting in trouble when I was little for putting a Chuck E. Cheese's sticker on my wooden bed frame,” she explained.

In conclusion, what's important isn't the reasoning behind UNC students' decisions to put stickers on their very expensive laptops- it's what the stickers or absence of stickers stand for that is important. Stickers allow us to feel like we can be ourselves on a shiny piece of metal that will give us a smile or remind us of a fond memory from somewhere far away from the desk you're sitting at that night in Davis. 


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