June 16, 2008
Is Facebook a reunion killer?

I'm currently serving on a committee for my 20-year college reunion, which is an event I've been looking forward to for some time now. So when I see articles like this one in which the author speculates that Facebook will make such things obsolete, I have to wonder if I'll be wasting my time.

Social networking has largely been a force for good, reconnecting grade-school classmates, creating a whole new approach to dating and enabling employers to check up on new hires. But it might just kill the college reunion.

Historically, reunions have used voyeurism as a lure. Who lives where, who got hitched, who got fat--you had to show up to find out. But now the answers are all online. "Facebook has turned the idea of college reunions from an expensive necessity to just expensive," says Kevin Pang, who skipped his five-year reunion at the University of Southern California last week.

Matt Yglesias and Dana Goldstein both wonder about this. I think this comment sums up the argument against better than anything I could think of:

You can't get nostalgic and drunk with people you haven't seen in 10 years on Facebook. Nor can you hook up with the girl you had a thing for but never did anything about in high school. Face to face contact is still important for some things.

Can't beat that logic. For me, one reason I'm so looking forward to my 20-year reunion is to see my friends' kids, and to show off my own. Most - not all, but most - of my college chums were still in the pre-children phase the last time we all got together, in 1998. This year I figure there'll be a swarm of offspring along for the festivities, and I can't wait to see what the next generation looks like. There's just no substitute for the real thing.

And I must confess, this article isn't really aimed at old fogeys like me anyway:

So far, college administrators report no such decline. But they have reason to be nervous. Anyone attending a five-year reunion in 2008 was part of the last class for which Facebook was not an integral part of campus life; it began catching on in mid-2003. The class of 2004--next summer's reunion crop--will be the first real test.

Damn kids. Seriously, I kept in touch with a lot of college friends the old-fashioned way - that would be by email; I may be old, but I'm not that old - and even for those I'd heard from all the time, it was still better to see them in person, and remember why we were friends in the first place. I think even for the Facebook generation, that urge won't go away.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 16, 2008 to Society and cultcha

.... which reminds me to tell you I'm driving down from Austin today and I'll be in town for a day or two to see my mother. :)

Posted by: Ginger Stampley on June 16, 2008 8:43 AM

Yep, facebook, email, websites are all good, but face to face, that's a whole 'nother aminal. Go for it Charles, eat, drink and be merry!!!

Posted by: Texas Education on June 16, 2008 11:43 AM

Kuff, I had no idea you were on the committee. Looking forward to seeing you in October, dood!

Posted by: CrispyShot on June 16, 2008 2:28 PM

Funny. I was just at my 10 year high school reunion this weekend and one of the things I kept hearing -- over and over again! -- was how Facebook made the reunion completely unnecessary. Yet almost 200 people still showed up... :)

It's true that I know what all of my former HS classmates are doing these days via the magic of Facebook (except for those few odd souls that have fallen off the grid), but I don't think that any technology will ever make face-to-face meetings and get-togethers obsolete. It's still way more enjoyable to see people in person than on a profile picture. :)

Posted by: K on June 17, 2008 10:04 AM

Reunions are indispensable for fiction writers. They give us a better sense of where people end up and why. I have learned a lot...and had fun too.

Interestingly, the most interesting people at each reunion are the last people I would suspect beforehand. Often I have a lot of fun talking to people I never knew at school!

Posted by: Robert Nagle on June 22, 2008 10:43 AM