Face-off with Facebook
Facebook ruined my high-school reunion.
I had been looking forward to my ten-year reunion for five years. I couldn’t wait to see how the people I had grown up with in my rural Kentucky town had turned out. Who had gone from ubergeek to chic? Who had four kids and was already divorced? Who was running her own company? Who had gotten fat? Who would shock me by turning out nothing like I had imagined? I was convinced that a ten-year absence from people I once saw daily would be delightfully surprising.
And then, in the spring of 2007, more than two years before my reunion, I joined Facebook. I connected with former coworkers, distant cousins, even a girl I met in 4-H camp when I was nine. And, of course, my high-school classmates, who probably made up at least half of my friend list. I scoured their profiles, devoured their photo albums and stalked their message boards, searching for details about their career choice, their marital status and the number of children they had. I saw wedding photos, first baby portraits and countless poorly lit pictures of pets. With a click of my mouse, I was able to catch up with people I hadn’t seen in years.
Eventually, the novelty wore off. I had moments of Facebook addiction, but I wasn’t one to obsess over it or document my every move and mood change with a status update. So when I found out my high-school reunion was just a few months away, all the excitement I thought I would feel about it returned. I immediately marked the date on my calendar and made plans to attend. As the event approached, I returned to Facebook, writing on classmates’ walls and asking if they were going. With each “yes” response, I grew more excited.
When the big day arrived this past July, I drove five hours south on I-65, through Indiana, across the Ohio River and into Louisville. Although my hometown is about 20 miles northeast of the city, the alumni committee had chosen to hold the reunion at the Kentucky Derby Museum, which I knew would provide plenty of horse history displays to keep my husband distracted as I talked to people he had never met.
As I walked across the parking lot, glancing nervously at a few vaguely familiar faces, I was suddenly fearful about not being able to recognize people or remember names. Our graduating class had fewer than 300 students, but that’s still a lot of names to recall. Luckily, the check-in table provided blank “Hello, my name is” name tags accompanied by magic markers in our royal-blue school color, and I was pleased to see my classmates were using them.
It was slow at first but within an hour, the room was loud and the hugs were plentiful. And I didn’t need the name tags at all. I recognized most of my classmates from their Facebook profile photos, which admittedly seemed a little creepy and stalker-like.
One of the first people I saw was my friend Jennifer, with whom I had attended church CCD classes for as long as I could remember. I hadn’t talked to her in years, especially since her family moved out of state after we graduated. I momentarily panicked about not knowing what to say beyond the initial pleasantries, but then I remembered a recent bit of information I had seen on someone else’s Facebook page.
“Jennifer! I heard you just moved back to Oldham County. How are you liking it?”
Later, I ran into Karma Lynn, whom I giggled through physics class with my senior year. A few months ago, I had seen comments on Karma’s Facebook wall from people offering condolences about her tragic house fire. Armed with this knowledge, I was able to immediately start a conversation, skipping awkward small talk altogether.
“How have you been since the fire? Have you finally settled things with the insurance company?” I asked.
During the replaying of our senior video, I found Stephen, a guy I had known since birth. (I think our mothers often conspired to get us together when we were young, secretly thinking how sweet it would be for us to get married one day. We did, just not to each other.) I asked him about his job, which I knew involved recruiting students at Eastern Kentucky University because he often referred to it in his Facebook status updates.
Then I saw Rochelle, my very first friend in kindergarten whom I affectionately nicknamed Roach when we were six, a name that stuck through high school.
“How’s the new baby? Tadhg, right?” I had seen the name in her Facebook photo album but wasn’t sure I said it correctly. She assured me I did.
I soon realized I wasn’t doing much catching up, just rehashing Facebook news. It made me wonder why I was even there. Was the long drive, the inconvenient timing and the effort of dragging my husband to an event he didn’t care about worth it? I paid $80 for meals we didn’t touch and $8 for a glass of wine in a plastic cup and saw most of the same people whose profiles I’d been sifting through now for years online. What was the point of getting together when we already knew everything about each other’s current lives? It would have been easier to have just scheduled an online chat.
Don’t get me wrong, Facebook is a fantastic tool that has changed communication in ways I never could have imagined. I found out about my cousin’s engagement, my friend’s pregnancy and my former coworker’s divorce through Facebook and still use it to keep tabs on my preteen nieces. My church even uses it to announce upcoming activities and let people know about volunteer opportunities or prayer requests.
It’s easy, fast and practically everyone on the planet who uses a computer has a Facebook account, including my 61-year-old mother who primarily logs in to see new photos of her grandson, my brother’s kid.
But it’s killing the idea of surprise. No chance to discover a friend’s engagement in person—just read the status update. No need to send out a birth announcement of your new baby—just post a labor play-by-play on your Facebook wall. After all, why should people go to the trouble to physically (or even vocally) connect with other individuals when a few quick taps of the keyboard let you tell everyone everything all at once?
Granted, Facebook allows us to connect on some level with other people, but there’s a huge dead zone of cyberspace between us, causing a sensory disconnect. Even if Facebook gives us a place to tell each other that we’re excited it’s Friday or that we’re standing in line for tickets to New Moon, it’s not the same as listening to another person’s voice, touching their shoulder or seeing them smile.
You need to have real physical experiences with people to build memories. After all, isn’t that why we want to reunite ten years after our high-school graduations? We spent four years of high school making memories, but, although a reunion might give us a physical, memorable experience, the chance of reigniting a meaningful friendship in just a couple of cocktail-laced hours seems slim. So the real point to a reunion is to catch up on each other’s current lives. But we’ve already caught up online, so there’s really no point in being in the same place at the same time.
Of course, there were a few exceptions. I reconnected with Ashley, who had left high school after junior year and whom I had never run across on Facebook because I searched just for classmates who had graduated from my high school, rather than attended. Everything we talked about was new and surprising. I had no idea what she was doing or where she lived before that night. But of course, the next day, I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a friend request.
I guess my reunion wasn’t ruined, just very different than the way I had imagined it ten years ago. I had nothing new to share with people. They already knew I lived in Chicago and worked as an art director at a magazine and recently got married. I already knew their kids’ names, the night-crying habits of their new puppy and how they felt about Obama’s health-care plan. The excitement was gone and the event seemed pointless.
On my way out, I stopped to say goodbye to Karma Lynn and thought maybe it was still good to see people face-to-face and remember that they didn’t know about every aspect of my life.
“By the way, your wedding dress was soooo beautiful! And who was your photographer? Because that profile photo on Facebook is gorgeous,” she asked.
Okay, well, maybe they do.