Updated: Mar 2, 2021
Midwinter snowfall sends housebound Columbians into a flurry of FOMO.
By Jenna Yuan
The snow blanketing Morningside Heights through much of January and February brought with it another curious flurry of activity: Columbia students quick to post Boomerangs of College Walk, Instagram stories of snowball fights in real time, even a compilation of giant snow penises on social media. But for many of their peers scattered across the world, the snow did not bring delight but another, much less agreeable feeling: SnowMO.
Perhaps most aptly summarized by a comment on the official Columbia University Instagram that reads, “Like this if you’re at home sad as hell watching this,” SnowMO is the unique FOMO (a slang acronym for “fear of missing out”) caused by the social media celebrations of recent New York snowstorms. Among students at home, SnowMO arose seemingly ubiquitously in response to their near-campus classmates’ broadcast jubilations. Besides the 32 likes the Instagram comment garnered, I counted numerous messages in the Class of 2024 GroupMe, several Tweets, a handful of TikToks, and a Columbia Confessions post, all expressing the collective disappointment of missing out on the snow on campus.
Natalie Goldberg, CC ’24, readily admitted to her SnowMO. Noting the gray slush that had covered her hometown and current residence of Portland, Oregon while her peers enjoyed the first blizzard on campus, she was wistful about missing out on potential memories. Goldberg confided in me that her fantasy of “being able to walk around New York and see all of the buildings with all of the snow” was an integral part of the college experience that she had envisioned for herself—one of the key reasons she chose Columbia in the first place.
For Charlie Huang, CC ’24, the difference between the Columbia he applied to and the Columbia he was experiencing similarly sent him into the throes of SnowMO. Even though his hometown of Rosemount, Minnesota invariably receives several feet of snow each winter, Huang still drafted a “Why Columbia” supplement about experiencing a snowstorm on campus, in which he imagined how at home he would feel in wintery New York. Reflecting on the disappointment he felt nearly a year after his acceptance, he said, “It was a really impactful reminder when I saw my Instagram feed full of snowmen and snowball fights and sledding down Low Steps.” Before even submitting his Common App, Huang had envisioned himself in the midst of a blizzard on campus. But now, as a full-time Columbia student, he was doomed to watch his classmates live out his application dreams in pixels on his phone.
This feeling of being ignored seemed to be the key motivator behind many students’ SnowMO, including my own. Before our first year, Columbia had promised something special. Acceptance to Columbia had felt like a ticket to a life that sparkled a little more than everyone else’s, ripe for comparison in the arms race of picture-perfect memories uploaded online. Snow was yet another element of that fantasy. We imagined ourselves watching the first flurries in Harry Potter-esque Butler! Making snowmen on Columbia’s manicured lawn, below the centuries-old stone columns, in the greatest city in the world! Pelting our classmates, the world’s next super-CEOs and science whizzes and maybe even presidents, with snowballs. Feeling like a kid and a promising young adult and a future person of importance, all at the same time.
For many first-years, the pandemic shattered that promise of indulgence. Now, instead of bowling each other over with our in-person accomplishments and feeling like a part of something extraordinary, housebound Columbia students find ourselves stuck in a lonelier version of our high school worlds. What’s worse, as campus transformed into an idyllic snowglobe, students at home were made to watch the magic unfold from the wrong side of the glass sphere. SnowMO is pervasive because it combines all of those frustrations—a historic blizzard, the recent influx of even more students to Morningside Heights (even as Covid-19 continues to ravage New York City), and the seemingly endless inundation of joyful posts about the snow.
The snow produced a perfect storm, literally and figuratively. Reflecting both on his SnowMO, but on his first year at Columbia to date, Huang said, “I think, ‘I’ve just taken some classes and I’m already an eighth and pretty soon a quarter [of the way] through college?’ That’s a wild thought.”
Sighing, he concluded by summarizing SnowMO more aptly than I ever could: “I think we just don’t feel seen.”