Digital Life: Is Facebook making school reunions unnecessary?


By Walin Wong

Chicago Tribune


In the Facebook age, no one needs to wait a decade to reconnect with old classmates. With its ability to track down long-lost friends and share messages and photos, Facebook is its own non-stop virtual reunion.


Even so, the high school reunion remains a hallowed tradition. Earlier this year, I joined a Facebook group that a classmate created for my 10-year gathering, which is scheduled for the Saturday after Thanksgiving. About 120 members of our 400-plus class have joined the group, and some people have posted enthusiastic responses. (The recipient of our graduating class’ “best dressed” award proclaimed, “I’m drunk just thinking about this.”)

Facebook has made high school reunions much easier to organize. Lindsay Swanson, who is planning Naperville (Ill.) Central High School’s 10-year reunion, said she and two co-planners have done everything via the social networking site.

Swanson consulted a district-managed online directory of alumni information. But she found that most of the addresses belonged to her classmates’ parents, and it was far easier to search for people on Facebook. Swanson said nearly all of the 750 students in her graduating class are Facebook members.

“Talking to the school and a couple classes ahead of me, it seems that really in the past couple of years, that’s how everybody’s been reuniting,” said Swanson, who works as Naperville Central’s dance director.

But my generation’s heavy use of Facebook raises a question: What’s the point of a high school reunion when everyone already has reconnected online?

I remain close with a small group of high school friends. As for everyone else with whom I’ve fallen out of touch, my interest in their post-high school lives _ and, presumably, their interest in mine _ is fairly superficial: current location, professional history, marital status.


It’s those basic categories that Facebook covers so well. I see on classmates’ profiles where they went to college, where they’re living and where they’re working. I see updated photos of their family and pets and read their status updates. Lately, my Facebook feed has been overrun with people taking silly quizzes and sharing the results: “Who’s your celebrity boyfriend?” “What Chicago neighborhood do you really belong in?” And _ this is not a joke _ “How will you die?”

The considerable awkwardness I displayed in high school surely would be topped at the reunion by a conversation starter like: “So … choking, eh?” But if I already know via Facebook that someone has a colicky infant, bought a new house or drank three lattes that morning, what else is there to discuss?

Swanson acknowledged that she has thought about this issue. But she notes the upside of knowing so much surface information about casual or long-lost acquaintances. Viewing each other’s profiles takes care of many of the burning questions people have at reunions, like who’s gotten rich or drastically changed their appearance.

“Because all that information is already on Facebook, those awkward, first-couple-of-minutes introductions for people won’t be awkward anymore,” Swanson said. “So people can ask: ‘What are you up to? How is your family?'”

In other words, the information on a profile page becomes a springboard for substantive offline conversation. And perhaps some people have rekindled high school friendships online, and the reunion offers a rare opportunity to meet in person.

Swanson’s point of view is a good reminder that interaction on social media often languishes in banality unless there’s an effort to connect in person as well.

By the way, if anyone needs to break the ice with me at the reunion, here’s a freebie: My celebrity boyfriend is Hugh Dancy.


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