You’ve surely seen them around campus: stickers, colorful and eclectic, plastered to the back of laptops, the sides of water bottles, the frames of bikes. Sometimes it’s just one or two; sometimes the stickers are layered so thick you can barely tell what’s underneath. Some are gorgeous. Some are vulgar. Most are specific, representing the personal, often niche, interests of their owner.
The practice of customizing one’s belongings with stickers is ubiquitous on Willamette’s campus. So why do so many students do this? What do we aim to signal to the world when we affix a sticker to an item like a laptop?
Some students say they want their stickers to strike up conversations; others want to signal aspects of their identity and personality to the world; others still consider the practice a creative outlet. And, of course, we mustn’t forget all the folks who prefer to leave their possessions pristine.
When asked to describe her favorite sticker on her laptop, Rose Wilkinson (‘22) smiled and said, “I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this.” She pointed to one that says, “I love P-22,” referring to the name of a mountain lion living in Los Angeles and the movement advocating for the protection of the city’s big cats.
“They’re all environment and conservation themed,” said Wilkinson, referring to her array of stickers featuring animals, conservation organizations and National Parks. “That’s most of my identity.”
Like Wilkinson, many Willamette students decorate their belongings with stickers that represent aspects of their personalities.
Dani Abraham (‘20) chose certain stickers for her laptop because she found them to be positive and funny, and thinks convey those sides of her personality to others. Joanna Gold (‘22) said of her stickers, “They’re representations of the things I like and of things I find funny,” and added that she hopes her stickers will allow her to connect with people who share her interests.
When asked about their favorite sticker, Mads Malone (‘20) pointed to one depicting a rugby ball with the words “Ruck Off” on it. “Not everyone knows what ‘Ruck Off’ is,” they said. “It’s a way to advertise to people who like rugby.”
Allegra Starr (‘22) chose the stickers on her laptop for a similar reason. She has several stickers related to skiing and said she likes that only some people know what her stickers refer to.
“It’s not a picture of a skier, but if someone knows about skiing they probably know what this is,” she said, pointing to a sticker of a ski apparel brand’s logo. “[Stickers] build connections between people. You can find things in common with someone else without having to have a 20-minute conversation first.”
The process of decorating one’s belongings with stickers can be an elaborate one, and some consider it a form of artistic expression. For Jordan DeGelia (‘21), the conversation about laptop stickers raises a debate about whether or not a stickered laptop can be considered a form of art.
“Why couldn’t a laptop be the same as collage work if it’s still using the same principles of design? There’s still a certain amount of artfulness in this,” DeGelia said. “Even if it’s not fine art, it’s still a form of art and creation.”
When decorating his own laptop, DeGelia keeps in mind those principles of design, including form, shape, balance and color. “It’s meant for others to find aesthetic and interesting,” he said.
While many students choose to decorate their belongings with stickers, by no means is it a universal practice.
Lily O’Brien (‘21) keeps stickers on the bottom of her laptop, so only she and close friends are able to see them. She said she has concerns about how her stickers might be perceived in professional situations.
“Someone told me you shouldn’t have stickers on your laptop, especially in a professional setting, and some of mine might be inappropriate,” she said. “I mean,” she added with a shrug, “There are boobs on some.”
Sophia Leonard (‘22) made a similar point. “With my job, I’m really conscious of the way I, or this laptop, is presented to the world.” Because of this, Leonard has removed or covered certain stickers on her laptop out of concern that they could be perceived as inappropriate or disrespectful.
Jacob Bloom (‘23) has no stickers on his laptop, although not for the same reasons: “You know, I haven’t thought about it… Actually, it’s a trend I’ve been kind of perplexed about. It would never occur to me to stick a one-dollar product on an expensive machine.”
Although plenty of students prefer not to decorate their belongings with stickers, the practice is still widespread, representing the varied interests and personalities of Willamette students. So, next time you see someone with an interesting sticker stuck to their water bottle, maybe say something to them. Chances are that they’ll be happy to talk to you about it.