Photo courtesy of Alan Light.
By Timothy Dillon
In just two short years I will be attending my ten year high school reunion. Traditionally, this has been a daunting event for any aging twenty-something. The high school reunion in the past has been a benchmark for how we evaluate ourselves. Have we lived up to the expectations of our 17-year-old selves? Have we lived up to the expectations of our former peers? (My senior superlative was ‘Most likely to win a Darwin Award’) In turn, I also have questions. What has happened to the kids I went to school with now that they are thoroughly installed in adulthood? Before this descends too deeply into introspective paranoia, I simply log in to my Facebook, and voila, I have my answers.
With one or two exceptions, everyone I shared senior year with is on Facebook. I had a small graduating class of 69 and am Facebook friends with most of them, so piecing together the puzzle of what has happened to these people in the past eight years is pretty straightforward. I “like” some of my friend’s wedding albums and have even attended a wedding or two mostly due to the connections we’ve maintained via Facebook. We wish each other a happy birthday, do a few catch up chats, and sometimes even arrange mini-reunions of our very own amongst old clicks.
So what use is there in the high school reunion anymore? I already know who got fat; I already know who is changing the world; I already know someone who has gone the ‘Into the Wild’ route and is living the nomad life. And while these things aren’t even necessarily mutually exclusive, Facebook has allowed me to keep a watchful eye on a group of people who would have otherwise become strangers to me.
This perspective, that Facebook would be the end (death) of high school reunions, has been an annual story since 2007. A slow and steady decline in attendance, below 20 percent of the graduating class as opposed to the former average of 25 percent, is a clear indication of what’s to come. As our society grows older and the next generation functions more online than the one before, the lack of interest in spending physical time with these former friends and colleagues might dwindle into irrelevance.
One counter opinion is that Facebook allows reunion groups to better organize their efforts to perform outreach, thus increasing the likelihood of attendance. This might be true, but mainly in terms of an older generation. Essentially, the benefits of Facebook fall to those who weren’t indoctrinated with it in college at its inception. Generation X got to choose what aspects of their lives they put on their Facebook accounts. Further, I would argue that they have been able to micromanage what content they make public more carefully than the millennials who have lived their lives with Facebook. So while we do see added benefits for some, these will probably be short-lived as time progresses.
So you may have noticed, I said I would be attending my high school reunion. Why, you might ask? After all, I have a Facebook, so why bother with the effort to go to a reception that, statistically speaking, will only be a few handfuls of old classmates? It is because of the effort in and of itself.
Anti-Facebook-ers generally cite a few reasons for quitting the site or avoiding it altogether. They do not enjoy having their information data mined. They do not enjoy the bombardment of alerts and email. Finally, what hits closest to home for me, the website replaces genuine human interaction with a behind-the-keyboard experience. I enjoy doing things with people, not just chatting online or sharing images, videos, and links. I know I am not alone in this.
We all have people in our lives that we share time with away from our keyboards. I keep my Facebook simply because it can facilitate these types of interactions. If you asked me about my usage, you’d discover that I hardly manage my page as diligently as some. I, like others, find it to be a waste of my time; time that could be spent doing real things with physical people instead of their handles or digital projections.
Call me old-fashioned, but I have a feeling that getting a drink with some of my old classmates will provide for a more satisfying experience than simply keeping tabs on them through Facebook. Further, because I am filled in on what’s been going on, it might even lead to more in-depth conversations, since I don’t need to be caught up on all the details.
So yes, I’ll be joining the Facebook group. I’ll probably get a haircut a couple weeks before the reunion itself for that matter. I’ll definitely watch Grosse Point Blank (or any other collection of good reunion movies) and be sure to do my homework. Maybe this time around I’ll have a shot with the Prom Queen, so long as I survive the next two years. I’d hate to prove the yearbook committee right.