Facebook's High School Reunion Problem

Now, high school reunions take place every morning, while you sit at your computer not doing work, browsing your former classmates' update statuses. "Hey, the chubby guy I sat next to in biology class ran another marathon this weekend. I guess I should 'like' it?"
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I like Facebook. Oh, it gets a bad rap sometimes. And it's easy to criticize. Sure, it's a bit of a distraction from the important things in life. But without Facebook, how else would I get constant invitations to play Candy Crush? Also, it's fun to take those Facebook personality quizzes, like "Which Passion Of The Christ Character Are You?" and "Which Member of Norway's 2006 Winter Olympics Team Are You?" (answers: God and speed skater Hedvig Bjelkevik) Actually, my only real problem with Facebook is that it has killed one of our great American traditions, the high school reunion.

High school reunions used to take place ten years after you graduate, or twenty-five years after you graduate. Now, high school reunions take place every morning, while you sit at your computer not doing work, browsing your former classmates' update statuses. "Hey, the chubby guy I sat next to in biology class ran another marathon this weekend. I guess I should 'like' it?"

The thing I got most out of reading Charles Darwin is that human beings are not supposed to stay in touch with everyone from high school. It's unnatural -- like genetically modified food or heterosexual sex. Rather, during our teenage years, we're in a monkey-like state. Then we evolve; we leave high school, maybe holding on to a couple of good friends if you're lucky, then we start our lives, occasionally running into a school acquaintance at Target, and then years later we get together with all our classmates for a night of reminiscing, drunkenness, seeing who got weird-looking and revenge sex. This has been the natural, biological evolution of graduation-to-reunion for millions of years. It's why Alabama won't teach it in science class.

Sure, high school reunions still exist. But they're not the same. Now, people go into their reunion already knowing the stuff they used to learn at the reunion... which was the whole point of going to the reunion. High school reunions used to be all about the "surprise" factor. Whoa, James is religious now!? Darlene is hot now!? Kyle married our English teacher!? But, because of Facebook, everyone already knows this information. So now when you meet and greet your former classmates, the conversation is more like, "So what do you think about this weather we've been having?"

Before Facebook, the time-honored high school reunion was the place to discover which classmates are now successful and which classmates are now failures. Before Facebook, the high school reunion was the place to discover which classmates are now happy (IE the ones who found their soul mate and got married) and which classmates are now miserable (IE the ones who found their soul mate, got married and then had children). Now, at least based on the Facebook update statuses that people write about their lives, apparently everyone is happy and successful. Look how everyone is smiling in their vacation pics.

And, shallow as it may be, let's be honest; the biggest reason to attend your high school reunion has always been to find out how your former classmates look. But, of course, with Facebook, I bet most high school reunions don't even bother to hand out name tags at the door anymore. Everyone already knows how everyone looks. (note: I looked good at my high school reunion. Painful as the process may be, subjecting my face to a twice-a-week chemical skin peel is really paying off.)

We're all connected now. And this is nice. It's a good thing. The at-one-time bullies are Facebook friendly with their victims. Former prom queens chat on-line with the unpopular nerds. The kids who were jocks are now... well, they're still a**holes. But for the most part, Facebook has broken down the cliquish stereotypes we assumed our former classmates to be. The kids you partied with are now adults, sharing political views and news about their lives and -- though smothered underneath a pile of selfies -- even the occasional deep thought.

But for better or worse, social networking technology has rendered another American tradition irrelevant. And that's kind of sad. At least I assume it's an American tradition. Do other countries have high school reunions? I'm thinking Iraq probably doesn't. "Hey, does anyone know if Saddam is coming tonight? He what?! Wow. Okay, then I guess that means he's not coming."

There have been a million movie and TV show plots in which the protagonist attends his or her high school reunion -- often with the hopes of seeing an old flame or looking to settle an old score or to apologize to a classmate they once hurt and they still feel guilty about it. I bet that today's high school students have trouble relating to these storylines. The mystery of "whatever happened to so-and-so" is a fading era, replaced by "so-and-so just changed their relationship status."

And that's what high school reunions are really about, and that's what technology has taken away from us... the excitement of mystery. And that's a small thrill that those-still-too-young-to-have-attended-their-first-high-school-reunion will miss, without even knowing they miss it. Enjoy your ten-year reunion, twenty-eight-year-olds. But know that when you walk through the doors, there won't be any surprises.

There's no mystery anymore. I mean, the next Avengers movie doesn't even come out for another year, but I already know the plot. I already know everything about the new superhero characters. And I want to know everything about the movie, but yet I don't. But yet I do. But yet I don't. But yet I do. Do you see what I'm saying? (I'm saying that I'm a geek.)

Similarly, I love that Facebook allows me to keep in touch with so many people from my past. Thank you, Facebook. It almost makes up for funneling our personal information to government agencies and using us as human guinea pigs to sell more soda. It's comforting to be a mouse click away from so many names that, without computers, would've probably just drifted into that hazy retrospective part of our brain that self-activates anytime we're driving on an unfamiliar back road and a Sarah McLachlan song pops up on the radio. And yet, perhaps "comforting" is really just a crutch. Are our memories not enough? Sometimes I think that we're missing out by not missing out. Eh, whatever. Most of these people will eventually unfriend you, anyway.

Of course, there are people who choose not to be part of the social networking world, who would never join Facebook. But those are the same people who have no interest in high school reunions, anyway. They've moved on, living in the "now" without regret, grabbing hold of every new adventure that comes their way. They don't want to waste their time dwelling on about random former acquaintances of which they only have vague recollections. In other words, people who aren't on Facebook are no fun.

Yes, Facebook has eliminated the need for reunions. I'm going to make a prediction. One, competitive eating champion Joey Chestnut will surpass seventy franks during next year's July 4th Hot Dog Eating Contest. And also, in time, the traditional high school reunion will be phased out, disappearing from the cultural landscape, just like landline telephones and Miley Cyrus' dignity. Replacing it will be a new sort of "reunion", frequent and more spur-of-the-moment casual get-togethers. Update Status: Hey, everyone from high school! Some of us are getting together at Applebee's tomorrow night. If you're in town, stop by! And, hey, that could be fun, too.

Here's a personal story...

Years ago, back in my college days, I met a beautiful girl who sat next to me during a summer class I was taking. We struck up a conversation, which then led to an exciting, unforgettable, romantic, passionate affair that lasted until the end of the summer. Then I moved back to my hometown. We never saw each other again.

Over the years, from time to time, I tried looking her up. I'm dying to see what she's doing these days. But she had a very common name. And, honestly, I never really knew that much about her. So I was never been able to find her. And I'm sort of glad about that. Sure, I'm curious. But, in this case, I'll take the mystery and the memories over the banal comfort of the present.

Nevertheless, if you happen to be reading this essay, Gwyneth Paltrow, I hope you're doing well and I'd love to hear from you so hit me up on Twitter!

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