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A day in the life of an Oxford influencer

It’s 2 am. I rub my eyes and stare at the glowing screen of my laptop. Just one more video, the little voice in my brain pipes up. Just one can’t hurt. I pick up my phone and continue scrolling through Instagram, the movement of my fingers almost autonomous from my head and its incessant thoughts about the essay due tomorrow morning. Something catches my attention – the sights on this video seem familiar. Maybe I’ll watch it to the end. 

The familiar dome of the RadCam towers in the distance as words appear: ‘A day in the life of an Oxford student’. The next fifteen seconds are a whirlwind of aesthetically pleasing snapshots – studying in a beautiful library, indulging in a latte at Pret, dressing up for formal dinner. I sigh and return to my essay. 

As the name might suggest, we watch influencers to be ‘influenced’. We want to know about their lives, what products they’re using, any hacks they swear by – all in the hope that our lives might become as fascinating as theirs. Influencers are usually so far removed from my existence that I’m perfectly happy to think about them receiving hauls of luxury skincare I can’t afford, or making complicated salads that I’m not even going to attempt. What I hadn’t thought about was an influencer walking down Broad Street.
On the one hand, the close lived experience makes one feel seen. Suddenly the influencers aren’t so far away, and everything they have isn’t so unattainable. After all, they could be sitting five metres away from you in the Taylorian. Yet though they might be close physically, sometimes watching these videos makes me feel worlds away from the lives they live. 

In one sense, it’s almost sad. Often these videos present a rose-tinted, glitzed-up picture of Oxford that I believed in before I actually arrived here and was handed my first reading list. In some ways, it’s like a wake-up call: come on! You really do live in this city of stunning Gothic architecture, of dreaming spires. There are cafes to lounge in, cobblestone streets to be trod, formals to beg tickets for on Oxtickets, etc.

However, I can’t help but feel a profound sense of disconnect. The thought echoes through my head – but this isn’t my life. It isn’t real life. Where is the half-alive, half-dead reality I live, almost drowning in a reading list one week and then spending the next in a blur of Solomon’s and the college bar? Where are the videos of people crying in the library at two in the morning because they used the vac to doom-scroll and forgot all about collections? Or rants about the stress of having to shove everything into one vac storage shared across the whole floor, the cupboard stuffed so tight the door barely closes? Sometimes studying isn’t aesthetic the way that social media makes it out to be. Sometimes it’s gritty and draining, and you feel like reading one more article just isn’t physically possible. 

But the – for want of a better word – messiness of Oxford life isn’t really represented in these videos. 

Is it something about this university which inspires the need for perfection? It’s certainly a world-class institution, overflowing with intelligence and creativity of the highest level. So many inspiring people have studied here – from Malala to Hugh Grant – and we walk in their footsteps every day. Yet, for all of Oxford’s splendour and (dare I say, archaic) traditions, we can’t ignore the reality that it is home to normal students with normal student problems. And those problems are made all the worse by Oxford’s special features; its eight week terms, move-everything-out vac policy, and overall academic intensity are just some of the elements that make studying here both academically stimulating and challenging. 

We can all take different approaches to these influencer videos. We could seethe in jealousy whilst settling in for another long library session. We could feel warmly about being represented on social media. Personally, I think they’re inspiring – I want to have my life so put-together. I wish I had the pre-planning abilities and energy to stay so calm and composed throughout the term. But at the same time, I can’t help wishing for a few essay crisis videos. 

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