Has Facebook made the high school reunion redundant?
Yes, I realize I’m delving into the trite and the technical, but a few months ago I received an invite to my high school reunion and, to steal a phrase from Carrie Bradshaw (not something I ever saw myself doing, ever), I couldn’t help but wonder: in an era where every breath we take is published and publicized, what’s the point?
I saw myself standing with my colleagues on the campus where we spent our awkward years, nodding my head. “Oh, so you’re working in finance? Yeah, I thought I saw that on Facebook. Married? I noticed your relationship status had changed. Babies? Your album was cute. Grad school? Running your own business? Running seven marathons a year? Converting to Mormanism? Living in a yurt in Kathmandu? I saw the status update.”
In the heady days before Facebook, when it was possible for someone you’d spent four intensely uncomfortable years with to slip completely off your radar in a day, I envisaged the high school reunion with some satisfaction. My social discomfort at the time, my shy, blushing-at-everything countenance, made me the perfect candidate for a major five-years-later comeback. I would breeze into the room looking gorgeous and tanned (why do we think that tanned is somehow an indicator of good physical and emotional health?), my hair styled precisely to the trends of the moment, my clothes impressive in their well-tailored flattery and their obvious expense. I would have someone at my arm from well outside the sphere of the Santa Ynez Valley–an Englishman, preferably, who I’d met in New York City, where I’d settled after college to finish my novel (the one with the big advance) and write an enormously popular column. I would be a little tired–just got back from a trip to South Africa, research for my next book, you know–but the transformation from angst-ridden outcast to real-world success would be stunning.
But here’s the truth of it: we can’t shock each other anymore. Everyone I’m friends with on Facebook is already going to know what I look like these days, that I’m living abroad, that I’m getting another degree. If they read this blog they’ll even know that I’m poorer than dirt and have no wildly popular column to boast about. We grew up with each other, my classmates and I, but then (and we were really the first generation to do this) we continued growing up with each other, remotely. We saw all the college relationships, distilled to a single line (“in a relationship with…”, “it’s complicated with..”), all the parties, distilled to a wittily-named online album. We saw the shifts in geography, the aquisition of degrees (or not), the weddings, the children, the message that so-and-so wrote to so-and-so. What’s left to tell?
I ask myself, too: am I bitter because I’m not going? In that sophomore-year vision of an eight-year-older me, I never once considered skipping the event. But here I am, and the pressures of adulthood dictate that I stay put at the end of April, remain in Oxford, with (go figure) my Englishman, working on (go figure again) my book, living my already very public life. (But frankly, the way the weather is looking today, you couldn’t pay me to miss Oxford in full springtime bloom.)
A very close friend of mine wrote me a letter recently. “To be perfectly honest,” she wrote, “I think without you there I would be reverted back to the shy/awkward/semingly semi-retarded person I was at Dunn,” and the awful truth is, so would I. I can picture the scene much more clearly on this side of graduation. I would stand there, with my loyal Englishman at my arm, looking nice, dressed well, holding in my head the knowledge of my in-process book, my Oxford life, the places I’ve been, the places I’ll go, and I would become as dumb and uncomfortable as I was at 15.
Maybe I ought to be happy that Facebook has made it possible for me to feel smug without ever having to set foot on the campus of my alma mater. Maybe it’s not that Facebook has made the high school reunion redundant, exactly; it’s that it’s made it redundant for people who only ever considered going for the shallow aim of proving a point (i.e., you were wrong about me; in fact, I was wrong about myself). Maybe it’s that it will make the event less about showing off and more about socializing in a genuine way.
I’ll never know–but, because I can, because this is the world we’re living in and this is who I am in it now, I’ll blog about it anyway.