Commentary

How Will Facebook Change The Face Of My College Reunion?

Here in these waning days of spring, I'm obsessed with several things: that OMMA Social, which I MC, is only one week away (plug!), that school is almost over and I still have some camp registration stuff to take care of, and that my latest college reunion is only a week and a half away. It's like this, in some fashion, every spring:  a crescendo of past, present and future all melding into one confusing, exhilarating time of year. 

But I have to admit that one of those events is probably going to be quite a bit different than it used to be -- and that's the college reunion. Why is it going to be different, you ask?  

Facebook.

I've written in this space from time to time about how fascinating it's been to watch the steady creep of people from my high school and college years onto Facebook. As I've said before, when I first joined about five years ago, I felt like the only person of my age group who was a member of the service. I signed up because I was assigned a story on social networks; it was certainly the only way to report on them. I found that seeing the interface was helpful in understanding how things like news feeds actually operated, but it didn't give me the whole picture.  

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To be honest, what was totally lost on me at the time was that the only real way to understand a social network is for it to be populated by people you know -- or at least know of. At the time, almost everybody on Facebook was high school or college age, and I felt like one of those unfortunate suburban moms who refuses to accept she is no longer a high school cheerleader -- so still tries to hang out with them -- not to mention the high school quarterback. (Full disclosure: I did recently friend the quarterback from the year before me in high school, when I discovered that most of our mutual Facebook friends were from the tech world.)

 

But the reunion makes me realize how different things have become in the last five years. When one considers the share my college associates have among my almost 550 Facebook friends (that's not a brag), it's not all that many. I did a quick head count this morning, and it turns out that it's only 35 out of the whole group. I thought it was far higher.  

I think the reason is that compared to five years ago, when that number was zero, the window into the current lives of my college classmates is exponentially bigger, and more detailed, than it was in 2006. A few dozen Facebook friends are all it takes to find out not only who is going to the reunion -- and who's not -- but also what their kids are doing, what kinds of pets they have, the causes they support, the houses they're having trouble selling, and the TV shows they watch. The window gets bigger, of course, when you include comments on status updates from college associates whom you haven't friended, the profile pictures of the people from college that Facebook suggests you friend, and other permutations of how we all get a look at the extended social graph. In short, it profoundly changes the state of relationships that are, in my case, decades old.  

I imagine how college plays out in my social graph is somewhat different than it is for people who are younger. While all social networks are shaped by the participation level of their members, this truth is probably accentuated in a demographic that is among the newer ones to come onto Facebook. Since it can't be assumed that everyone I went to college or high school has a Facebook account, or that everyone who does logs on frequently, I sometimes find it odd that I'm in much closer contact these days with many people I actually knew less back when I was in school with them. I sometimes long for some closer friends to jump in.  

Which brings me back to the reunion. Will Facebook take some of the mystery out  of it -- or will it smooth over some of the initial awkwardness when coming face-to-face with someone you haven't seen in years, but whom you now know is also a beleaguered Mets fan? Will it lessen attendance because curiosity about what classmates are up to can be so easily fulfilled -- or will it encourage attendance because it's easier to get a group together to go?

Whatever the case, I know it will be different. As part of what's fascinating about social networks is how they affect offline behavior, I'll report back in two weeks and let you know how this plays out.

6 comments about "How Will Facebook Change The Face Of My College Reunion?".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, June 2, 2011 at 4:43 p.m.

    It's easy to find the perfect FB profile photo, or fix one with Photoshop. Going to the reunion is high-touch, not high-tech, and as real as it gets! I've found the lesser-known classmates easier to approach when I've friended them first.

  2. Daniel Soschin from Speaker & Blogger, June 2, 2011 at 5:01 p.m.

    As the president of my high school's alumni association, we have found interest in reunions remains strong for the generation of alumni that were not electronically connected (pre-email/web/Facebook). However, we have found that interest in larger, more formal reunions begins to wan with the younger alumni who have a very well-established network within social communities and online in general. To these alumni, meeting face-to-face is an option only if they are interested; and many feel connected already. More formal opportunities (dinner+social+event for a larger price tag) are less popular. We've seen this really come into play over the past two years. 5 and 10 year alumni have much less interest. However, this may also be a result of them just being young alumni in general - not yet fully removed from their HS days. Only time will tell, if a 20-year reunion will be well attended.

  3. Juliette Cowall from Godwin Plumbing & Hardware, June 2, 2011 at 5:02 p.m.

    I joined FB when old classmates started planning a reunion and finding people. It's become almost a rite-of-passage to reconnect with people from decades past. And I'm also curious about the current generation in the future decades. They won't have anyone to "find" because they'll have always had an FB connection.

  4. Nina Lentini from MediaPost Communications, June 3, 2011 at 6:06 p.m.

    Catherine, I've been on since the month it started, since I worked at a college. Yeah, not much out there at first, but fun in a way.
    Then, I coerced people to join and, some reluctantly, did and it got funner. Finally, as my milestone high school reunion approached, I created a FB page for that and we got more than a hundred of our classmates to join.

    Best reunion ever!

  5. Jennifer Osbon from MegaPlayer, June 4, 2011 at 9:41 a.m.

    My oldest daughter graduated from high school last week so I'm wrestling with emotions that run the entire spectrum, including confusion about whether I'm old enough to have a college age child. Is it possible?

    I've been thinking about the role Facebook has played in feeding this feeling. I have many friends on Facebook from high school - some of which started first grade with me. So we are in a different stage of life now, raising children and working our careers. So I only "see" them on Facebook. I still know what's going on in their lives - just like I did in high school.

    Before Facebook, time passed with the calendar. People and relationships stayed with the part of your life in which they were active. Now, Facebook makes it possible for relationships to live on well past their natural life-cycle. All of a sudden 3rd grade doesn't seem like 35 years ago (Yikes!) because the people are still in my life. The one's who post often feel like close friends even though I never see them personally.

    When it's reunion time, I'm excited to attend so we can have warmer and deeper conversations right off the bat. We don't have to cover 20 or 30 years in 5 minutes. We can start with what's been going on recently. I can honestly say, without Facebook I would not attend reunions. "Those people" from "so long ago" wouldn't have any relevance to me today. Now, the people have both relevance and recency.

    Facebook has given all of us the ability to have lifelong friends no matter where our lives take us geographically. It is another great gift that our kids will likely take for granted.

  6. Jerry Foster from Energraphics, June 6, 2011 at 3:31 a.m.

    I don't have the slightest idea what the names of my classmates were in school and university and the military. I don't think FB does that great a job in helping us connect.

    Went to only one reunion, the 10th. Wasn't attracted to the cheerleaders anymore as they had clearly peaked early as had the football players. On the other hand, the least attractive girl in high school had become a real looker at age 28. The nerds had done well for themselves.

    Regarding the Mets fan on FB, men should avoid patronizing professional sports because it only signals to the best looking women that they should try to date the players instead of them (and marriage doesn't take anybody off the market when one considers that cancer or divorce can change things quickly). Just like with bars and the way women often consider the bouncers to have higher status (social value) than the customers, it's insane for men to patronize businesses where the hired help has higher status. At least with a black tie benefit or art gallery cocktail party, the patron/guest is the one with the status.

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