Monday, November 17, 2008

Like A Slow-Moving High School Reunion

Oh, Facebook.

I don't think my high school's graduating class even had a 10-year reunion. Or 15, which would have been this year. Looking ahead, I can't think of a reason to bother with the 20-year, since by then everyone will have joined Facebook and we'll all be caught up.

I'm not even kidding.

If somehow you are missing this online high-school reunion phenomenon in your own life, let me explain how it works. Through the magic that is Social Media, your lost connections can be sewn together again, piece by piece, in five easy (and sometimes mindblowing) steps.


Step One: Your Past Shows Up In Your Email

You receive an email with the following words: "John Smith" has added you as a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know John in order for you to be friends on Facebook.

And you think...John Smith? Which John Smith? Certainly not THE John Smith who used to snap my bra strap in line for the cafeteria in the 8th grade? And who went out with my best friend but dumped her that summer when we were 15? And who got drunk on wine coolers and made out with me that summer between freshman and sophomore year of college at that party that time when I realized I'd always had a bit of a thing for him and then never saw him again anyway? Surely not. Surely it's a different John Smith, like, from some sort of work thing.

Step Two: Confirmation

You log in to Facebook and click on the link and there he is. John Smith. Not from work. From middle school. And high school. And that time you made out. And now's he's staring back at you from your computer screen, looking older and fuller with slightly more heft and slightly less hair, wearing a college sweatshirt with what could be his alma mater or not, you don't remember, smiling and holding a baby with one arm while a toddler clings to his other. He looks, for all intents and purposes, great.

A weird sense of something you can't quite place makes your stomach clench. You click and confirm that John Smith is indeed your "friend."


Step Three: Snooping

Now that you have been granted "friend" status, you begin the snooping process. John is married and living in the same town he -- make that you and he -- grew up in. He has two kids. He has 4 photo albums, and from these you ascertain more than you could have suspected Facebook would tell you. You know what his wife looks like (you don't know her; maybe he met her in college?). You know what his kids look like and how old they are and their names. You know that he has a cute house and silly dog and vacationed last spring in Mexico.

And then you go a step further and you see who John Smith's friends are, and whoa. Turns out, John's still hanging out with the same group from high school. Then you realize why those faces in those photos looked familiar.

(You also maybe see the name and face of the one who broke your heart so many years ago you were supposed to be too young to have a heart to break. You never even thought to look for him on Facebook, because what would you say? But there he is, too. You'll have to figure out what to do about him later.)


Step Four: The Re-Introduction Email

One of three things happen once you have made contact.

1) Nothing. You are now friends and that's all there is to it. No need for further discussion.
2) He writes you.
3) You write him.

Assuming you find yourself in position 2 or 3, the email itself is practically a template. I envision that there are millions of these emails flying through Facebook's pages every day.

**********************************************************

Hi Random Person From Grade School,

So funny to see you here. It's been such a long time! I can't believe we've gotten so old...

I see you're Some Kind of Marital Status. I have to say, it took me by surprise. I never thought you'd ever settle down / I always thought you'd be married by now. But I guess it's not fair to base my assessments on your middle-school dating tendencies. Haha!

Your pictures are great. Do you enjoy living Where You Live? What are you doing for work?

I see you're still friends with That Guy. I hope he's well. Please tell him I say hello next time you see him.

So fill me in...what all have you been up to?

-Kristy

**********************************************************
And then you get a fill-in-the-blank response, plus tons questions about YOUR life. So you answer. You find yourself trying to encapsulate everything you are and have become since high school.

You're a bit shocked that it only takes three paragraphs.


Step Five: And Then?

Once you've gotten through the initial snooping, casual how-are-you emails, you're stuck. It's not like you're suddenly going to be friends with this person you don't really know but whose name you doodled on your notebook once, for a week, about a million years ago.

It's NICE to know what he's up to. It's even nicer to be able to have a civil conversation that doesn't involve bra-strapping or spitballs.

But then what?

You start noticing his Facebook status updates, and they aren't really very interesting. He's dropping the kids off at their grandma's, and that doesn't really mean anything to you or your life or your own day.

And then he publishes something about how he voted for McCain. He changes his profile image to a "No You Can't" picture. You see he has recently joined a fangroup of Sarah Palin and also Metallica. His favorite movie is listed as "Wedding Crashers."

All of which is cringe-worthy and somehow really quite wonderful.

Because this was a gift.

You didn't have to lose that 15 (or you know, 50, whatever) pounds to go to your reunion. You didn't have to show up with your stories and pictures of your kids. You didn't have to worry about your outfit, or if your lipstick was on, or if you were good enough.

This exchange, while totally online and in many ways constructed, was way more natural and honest than some put-on party with nametags. Here we are, here is our life. Here is a genuine snapshot of who I am and who I know and what I do and where I'm headed this afternoon.

I am reminded of why I knew John and why I liked him. I am also reminded of why we fell out of touch: we never really had anything in common except a shared experience that was forced upon us. When that stopped being true and we went off on our own, we stopped sharing an experience and we stopped being friends.

But here we are, again, part of the same experience, again. Sure, it's online and distant, but it's still true and it's still something we share -- and this time, voluntarily. He from his side of the world and me from mine.

I don't think there's any easy way to explain why this is so compelling. It just feels like some of my life's loose ends are being tied up.

My life isn't really impacted in any way by knowing that last saturday, John's little girl's soccer team won.

Except somehow it is.


35 comments:

  1. That's the most well articulated reason for joining Facebook that I've heard. Perhaps I shall. Though I must say I'm really hesitant...high school was such a blur.

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  2. Nailed it.

    I'm having fun connecting... though I didn't date much (nearly not at all - was the chubby friend), so Ihave little threat of being friended by an old flame...

    Poor me. Lucky me.

    I'm afraid I'm one of them folks - not with uninteresting updates, but exhasperating. I crack myself up and think the world should crack up with me. Right?

    I mean, I'm right... right?

    :)

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  3. You've captured this perfectly. Yes, that is exactly what it's like - and I went to high school thousands of miles from you and escaped to the other coast. I've now started on grade school friends. Those transition periods where one friend moved on and became better friends with someone else, that felt so traumatic at the time - all that residual tension is gone. It's healing, really.

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  4. This is brilliant. I finally succumbed to peer pressure and reluctantly joined Facebook last week. I'm actually a bit nervous to "friend" some of my old high school classmates, for fear of these steps playing out. There's a reason most of us aren't in touch anymore. I just had an exchange today from a guy from high school who talked about getting together the next time he's in the Bay Area. All I could think was, "Oh God, would we have anything to talk about in person?".

    I've been surprised at how many people I know are on Facebook. I really resisted it for a long time, since I'm already on Twitter, Flickr, etc etc. But it has been fun, although I now know WAY too much about my teenage nieces'/nephews' love lives.

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  5. So true! My reunion is next year, and I have debated the intelligence of paying for a plane ticket home to see people I already know everything about. Well said.

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  6. Clearly you need to see this clip:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs

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  7. beautifully said and so true, says the woman getting addicted to FB....

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  8. This is a great post... and so it in a nutshell.
    I remember it kind of crushed me to find out the guy I lusted after for all of Grade 8 turned out to be so painfully average!

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  9. wow! you have totally described everything i thought about facebook! i love it though. mostly for connecting with college friends and distant relatives. high school and family reunions are now totally unnecessary!

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  10. This post is so accurate! Facebook defintitely has found its calling...LOL

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  11. High School Reunion... wow...
    Never been to one myself... hehehe...
    have met with friends from school for drinks... but never a "reunion".
    Ahhh... I had a nerds reunion once! huahuahua...
    I was one of the guys that put together one of the first nation wide known chat rooms in my country. We did a reunion of the first generation users a couple of years ago... it was sooooo cool! :)

    hehehehe

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  12. I love this post. Especially the e-mail template.

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  13. Facebook is like seeing someone you knew around town or on the college campus, but just seeing them- not needing to have a full on conversation unless you want to.

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  14. It's truuuuuuuuuuuuuue! And tanks God I'm not the only one who snoops in the pictures!

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  15. I've actually been fascinated by the life stories of my former junior high friends. So far they've been unexpected. It's heartwarming to know that even the guy who returned to Fiji and brought back a traditional bride hates McPalin and enjoys bowling with lesbians.

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  16. So, so true. I joined FB a few weeks ago and the honeymoon is already over for me. It was exciting to reconnect but now I understand why we all lost touch in the first place. Great post!

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  17. Great post. These are all things I've been thinking about Facebook lately.

    The politics thing has really come as a shock, because it's just something I never thought about in high school. Who knew that the quirky nerd in my English class is a Republican? It wasn't a designation we had back then.

    I "unfriended" a girl I had a crush on in high school because she updated her status 10 times a day with stupid mundane stuff and she was dominating my updates.

    One thing about FB you didn't mention is how weird it is to see friends from different periods of your life-- high school, college, grad school, current friends-- all in one place.

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  18. This is an excellent post about Facebook. You have summarized it perfectly, I believe.

    One thing I hate about Facebook is how many couples get into arguments and even BREAK UP because of Facebook. My friend and his girlfriend got into an argument because he forgot to change his relationship status to "In a Relationship" on their two month anniversary. She is 23 and he is 30. He's just not INTO Facebook like people in their early 20's are, you know? Stuff like that doesn't MATTER to him. So many people are worried about their relationships being "Facebook Official." How about concentrating on the ACTUAL relationship, and not how other people perceive it?

    Sorry, I didn't mean to go off on a rant there!

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  19. I love this. I just requested you as a facebook friend, but we can skip the form e-mail exchange :P

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  20. we're friends on facebook, but not because we went to high school together seeing as i'm 20 years old, i just think you're adorable and wonderful.

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  21. All of my old boyfriends and crushes are apparently complete technophobes, because none of them are on Facebook. SO DISAPPOINTING.

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  22. Hi Kristy~ I fell out of touch for awhile...busy with this, that and the other. Just recently joined facebook wondering why the hell I was even doing that. My VA said it would help my blog listings and my business...whatever.

    But, reading this post cracked me up. I had the same experience the other day. With almost the same ending. Someone from my past that I had wondered about...after a bit of a chat...all done. Funny how that works out.
    Anyway, glad to see you are still here~
    Bye for now.

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  23. I would be interested to know how many people who were not on Facebook joined after reading your post. You should do a poll! And you can tick me off as a 'Yes' today.

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  24. Funny, I've been thinking a lot about Facebook lately too. I had an ex get in touch with me through it and I still haven't decided if I'm going to accept his friend request. I worked pretty hard to remove him from my life so I'm not sure I want him knowing what I'm up to in that much detail.

    I'm also pretty uncomfortable with the level of detail that's available to everyone as well... I have about 160 "friends" and I frankly don't want them all knowing that much about me. The other weird thing is that I've finally connected with a few people that I went to High School with (the ones who stayed in the same groups in my tiny home town) and it's just weird too to see their lives haven't moved on all that much, they just have kids and partners now and going by the surnames of some of the girls, they just married guys we went to school with anyway.

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  25. excellent post, kiki.

    and the seemingly random facebook friending only gets worse as you get older. i've been friended by people with whom i allegedly attended high school, but since they're only using their married names on facebook and i haven't seen or spoken to them in, oh, A QUARTER OF A CENTURY, i've no clue who they are. their profile pictures don't help, either...!

    i've never regretted skipping my reunions. i'm still in touch with those i was closest to in my youth, thank goodness.

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  26. While wonderfully written and totally spot-on, this is exactly the reason why I refuse to join Facebook. I don't want any of the turkeys I went to high school with knowing a single thing about me as the smart money is that they're logging on from prison.

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  27. kristy,
    you are incredibly smart and really, you did hit the nail on the head. it is exactly true.
    and for me, going to a high school reunion, the few i am REALLY in touch with are the ones i want to see and communicate with.
    so i am grateful for facebook reconnecting me with the few whom i lost and regretted that loss but otherwise, yeah totally true in every way.
    :)

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  28. Wow. This is the first compelling reason I've heard for joining facebook.

    Another great thing about your post: it so accurately describes the mixed feelings involved in staying in touch with the people you knew during your formative years.

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  29. This was by far the best post I've ever read about Facebook...right on target.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  30. You nailed it right on the head! I just had my old BFF contact me through facebook and I don't have a clue what to say to her. I haven't talked to her in 20 years.

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  31. Loved this way back when you posted it. Just saw this and was reminded: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7MuwPlOiNQ

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  32. Great post :)

    I'm gonna do me an FB account now. You talked me into it!

    Take care!

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