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?
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.
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.