Why you should care

Joining a frat doesn’t have to be about paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of passing out next to the bank president’s son while in pursuit of his daughter.

These days there’s a fine line between satire and innovation, and The Onion inadvertently crossed it way back in 2004 with a riotous piece called “Online University Cracks Down on Rowdy Online Fraternity.” The online frat’s egregious conduct included “purchasing alcohol from Wine.com with falsified driver’s licenses” after having “hacked into the web site of rival University of Phoenix Online, erased its mascot, and placed a downloaded version on their own web site.”

Six years later, one brave and very real person, Darrek Battle, started his own online service fraternity at the Florida Institute of Technology. Theta Omega Gamma remains a small online fraternity for online students at FIT, but it has not spawned any Greek imitators.

The idea merits consideration by virtue of the savings on dry cleaning and reupholstering alone.

But now, in 2013, when you can do everything from working to dating to taking classes to tending a garden online, why shouldn’t someone try to relocate Greek life there as well? Sure, many fraternities and sororities have websites, and some even have online friendship networks, but no one besides Battle has taken the giant leap forward and moved the frat house to the corner of HTTP and .ORG.

The idea merits consideration by virtue of the savings on dry cleaning and reupholstering alone, not to mention the fact that beer pong is probably more dangerous to your health than sharing needles. But if you need more convincing, the following trends also point toward a digitized fraternity.

Second, even for students still on campus — with the cost of a four-year degree pushing $100,000 at public universities and $180,000 at private ones — who wants to pay (or ask their parents to pay) a few thousand dollars per year more to live in a frat house in addition to paying one’s membership dues?First, the proliferation of online education options is already moving a new generation of students off campus, and these students will increasingly look for off-campus extracurricular options. With over 30 percent of college students taking courses online, providers like the University of Phoenix offer a number of forums where online learners can engage with others – for example, with those sharing similar interests or who have a spouse deployed overseas.

Between social media and online dating, the majority of a student’s initial social interactions have already migrated online.

Such expenses seem especially unnecessary given that, between social media and online dating, the majority of a student’s initial social interactions have already migrated online. There are no exploratory first dates anymore, and if you’re looking for someone to hook up with, countless online options offer a much higher probability of success than some awkward “mixer” conversation over cheap beer.

Finally, there is an increasingly influential demographic whose interests would be greatly served by an online fraternity experience: the geeks, nerds, dweebs and dorks who are responsible for the online social experiences that the rest of us so enjoy. Catering to the sometimes socially challenged techies in Silicon Valley and elsewhere is already big business, from niche dating sites like Geek to Geek and IntellectConnect to self-help books like The Nerdist Way. And what better way to help these young men and women improve their social skills before they leave college than an online brotherhood or sisterhood?

Traditionalists may decry any attempt to create a virtual frat house, but which old-fashioned experiences are they clinging to? Hazing? While it’s hard to replace in-person physical and psychological abuse, locking down a millennial’s Twitter feed for a few hours might simulate the distress. And, besides, moving the nexus of the community online does not mean never getting together in person.

Even though online fraternities would likely not supplant the traditional frat experience, wouldn’t it be nice to provide another option to those who would like to experience the benefits of brotherhood but in a different kind of setting, and more on their own terms? And you wouldn’t have to change everything: You could still hang out in front of the computer wearing your khaki shorts and soiled baseball cap as much as you want, bro.

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