Susan married her husband in 2010 and now has two children and a pet cat. She’s a successful lawyer living in Connecticut and spent her Christmas vacation traveling around South America. Her son plays soccer and was picked to be varsity captain. She also ate chia pudding for breakfast yesterday….
Typically, information like this is exchanged at a high school reunion. But if Susan shares this same exact information (and even more) on Facebook, what’s my motivation to attend my 10 or 20-year reunion? High school and college reunions are an iconic part of American culture. Whether it be a marketing tactic for weight loss medications and hair growth products or the theme of movies and TV shows, the reunion is a dying concept.
I experienced my sister attending her 5-year high school reunion. She anticipated seeing her friends and having that face-to-face interaction she had missed. But when she returned, she was surprisingly underwhelmed. Half her class was a no-show and the other half was distant acquaintances. And although she had not spoken to most of her classmates, she already knew how their appearances had changed over 5 years and where they were in their life. In a blog written in the Huffington Post by Galanty Miller, he describes how there is something innately unnatural with keeping in touch with people who are typically so distant.
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?
This plays into the idea of this happy façade we maintain over social media accounts. Rarely do we post the ugly pictures or the embarrassing moments. So we go 10 or 20 years assuming our classmates are living a perfect life. But even beyond Facebook friendships, “some simple Googling is all it takes to at least find a work profile or some trace of what’s happened after high school.”
This (short) video perfectly summarizes the painful awkwardness of reunions in the digital age:
In summary: Your classmates begin reminding you of things you’ve done in the past that you can barely remember yourself. And although you haven’t seen them in years, they know the smallest details. What happens to those who don’t have Facebook? Your classmates will think you’re dead. Time magazine reported in a decline in reunions starting in 2011. Although it’s unclear if the recession played a role in this, many believe that it is in part due to the element of curiosity and lack of motivation for people to attend.
However, some universities have been successful in channeling social media into their alumni network. Schools such as Cornell leverage social media to create a tighter sense of community. It also creates a space for alumni to share photos and videos both before and after the reunion. Wagner College has taken a similar approach in creating Facebook groups telling alums to “Click on your class year to connect with your classmates through Social Media!” (a little creepy but relatively effective in creating a network). Boston College had also rolled out their own alumni network via social media. Rather than creating a network solely based on geography, they’ve also focused on specific classes/years. Each alumni chapter (both locally and internationally) and class has its own Facebook page run by the Alumni Association. Leveraging social media is one of the reasons Boston College has such a strong alumni network.
Although the future of class reunions and its symbolic meaning is declining, there really isn’t a way to replace the real human interaction. (But maybe this is a potential space for VR?)