Social Apps Mirror Class Reunions

I went to my 10-year class reunion last weekend. I thought 10 years enough time for most anyone to get over issues from high school. For a good 75% of the class, 10 years was enough time with plenty of laughing and reminiscing. The other 25% seemed more inclined to stick with the same group from high school, ignoring the larger group unless someone ventured into their territory. But that’s a story for another day.

I went as an observer more than anything, not sure who’d actually attend. However, I ended up genuinely happy to see my classmates, many who I hadn’t seen since graduation. We saw each other on an almost daily basis for 12 years, and then our lives diverged. As a group, we’ll only interact as a “whole” at reunions. Leading up to and after the event, I’ve tried to determine why we’re both drawn and repelled by reunions.

Reunions of all kinds are an interesting thing. It’s a combination of our past, our present, and our future all at once—rarely a comfortable experience. But in some ways, I think this combination is what makes social media like MySpace and Facebook so popular.

Our profiles on these sites capture our past, present, and future—they’re how we establish common ground, find friends, and expand our network. We share details about ourselves to make connections. In many areas of our lives, we show only one facet of who we are. In the workplace, we highlight the skills and background that appeal to bosses and co-workers. In our personal lives, we highlight the hobbies and interests that appeal to romantic conquests and friends. Rarely do we enter a situation that encourages sharing all of these facets.

A reunion pulls these pieces together as we seek to catch up with one another and reconnect—where have you been, what are you doing, and what do plan to do—but it’s usually only for the day of the reunion. Social apps like Facebook and MySpace create a perpetual kind of reunion. You can revise and add to this public profile, making changes to your past, updating your present, and predicting your future.

The popularity of these apps shows that in some contexts, we’re happy to share ourselves, sometimes too much of ourselves if you agree with the critics. However, Olly makes the valuable point that “…it’s not as if that information is particularly difficult to track offline as well as on.” I know that reunion organizers found a lot of people through online avenues like MySpace and Facebook. In spite of the mumblings about the constant chatter over Facebook of late, it and other similar social sites are here to stay. I’m curious to see how they’ll change, especially if open environments, like the one at Facebook, are duplicated in the future.

There’s been some discussion that apps like Facebook will end the traditional class reunion. My take? We may love technology, but we still love seeing people in person. My class reunion ended with a vote to wait 10 years for the next one. A few people protested at waiting that long. I suspect an unofficial 15-year reunion will happen among an interested group. Perhaps they’ll get together and arrange it on Facebook.



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July 2007
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