When a group of college students wielding borgs — gallon water jugs filled with a delectable combination of water, vodka, and Mio — graced my FYP, I was confused. I clicked into the account that posted the video and was surprised to find that they didn’t attend my alma mater, UC Berkeley. I graduated in 2021 and thought borg was unique to my campus.
Videos of students at various universities introducing themselves and showing off their gallon jugs decorated with borg puns kept popping up on my FYP, and conversations surrounding the concoction migrated to other social media platforms. But borg isn’t new; it’s just the latest part of campus culture that TikTok has turned into a spectacle.
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I first encountered borg in January 2019 when a friend of mine made it for a day-drinking event. To understand when borg gained popularity among my social circle at Berkeley, I reached out to the friend who introduced it to me as well as several other borg aficionados. My friend told me that he learned about borg through a few of his mutuals over a school break. A year before TikTok’s death grip on Gen Z fully took hold, borg, like so many things before it, spread organically across college campuses through word of mouth.
During my research process, I received a saved Snapchat and a heavily filtered photo of borg, both dating back to early 2019. The images were typical of the moment, when Facebook albums were on the decline and Snapchat and Instagram were the platforms where we documented our college experience. Nobody we weren’t friends with could see our Facebook albums, Snapchat stories, or Instagram posts, so unlike now, these small moments of campus life weren’t projected for the whole world to see.
Don’t get me wrong, borg was a spectacle when jugs of it appeared at parties, but mostly in real life or for your followers. Now, college students post their borg (and college experience) for whoever TikTok serves it to. TikTok makes the college experience so much more visible.
Borg, like sorority recruitment and the use of digital cameras at parties, was just another part of my college experience, but now it’s content. Campus life shut down in 2020 for a year, and TikTok’s influence grew over that period. When campus life returned, a hysteria over what Gen Z was up to was in full-force.
The colleges these student TikTokkers go to hardly matter anymore; it’s all about the novelty of them being Gen Z college students showing off the quirks of college life, like borg, that if you’re anything like me you might have previously assumed were unique to your school. Similarly, during the pandemic, college Facebook meme pages, a touchstone of campus life when I was in college, fell out of vogue to be replaced by general college meme pages on Instagram and also TikTok.
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The popularity of borg across our FYPs highlights the ubiquity of the moment: When everything has an audience of everyone, nothing feels personal.
If I had seen hundreds of other college students slamming borg on TikTok, it might not have felt so cool and special on that crisp January morning when I tasted my first sip.