“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, “I—I hardly know, Sir, just at present—at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”
--Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
A few months ago, I attended a going-away party for a colleague who was changing cities for a job. We’d met during an early-career, news internship, and I was flattered to be included in his “goodbyes” after all of these years. I found myself in a noisy bar, surrounded by a bushel of people I’d known for years but hadn’t seen for some time. Some of these re-connections felt awkward, but many of them also surprised me—because they weren’t. Mid-way through the party, I found myself deep in conversation, drinks in hand, with an old colleague who had once been my supervisor, talking more candidly about the news, ourselves, our beliefs…than we ever had. I can only hope that’s how my 10-year high school reunion turns out this fall.
Then again, I think my former supervisor and I fell so easily into conversation because we knew too much going in. Facebook gave the false illusion that we’d been following each other’s lives. It’s darn right creepy. He and I knew where each other currently works, what accomplishments we’d recently achieved and more.
Some half-heartedly joke, “Who needs a reunion, when you have Facebook?”
I already know who’s married; I know who got knocked up; I know who got pregnant on purpose; I know the states in which fellow high school alumni live; I know their professions; and I’ve already sized up how attractive their spouses are. What will we talk about? How will we avoid looking like creepers when we’re scarcely surprised by each other’s life updates? What’s left after Facebook?
Few friends my age pause and contemplate our unique role in Facebook’s coming-of-age story and how it has impacted us and our coming-of-age stories. Fellow members of my high school graduating class, and classes a couple of years below and above me, were among the first to join Facebook while we were in college. Facebook began in February 2004, and my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin, was among the early campuses invited to join—back when Facebook only accepted college students. According to my Facebook timeline, I joined in September of 2004 when I was a junior. My friend who attended the University of Michigan at the time invited me. Facebook, then, was an odd little world in which invitations were necessary to join, and we could search fellow students and what classes they were taking. When photo posting became available, we adopted a narcissistic obsession with posting photos of ourselves and spying on each other. For a short while, Facebook was a college students’ bubble. We never imagined we would continue to trace our lives through this medium for years to come—I’ve now been on Facebook for seven years. Kids are starting much younger than we did, and I can only imagine the bullying implications that come with it. Zuckerberg and his Facebook masterminds have expanded Facebook’s concept into a “timeline” of our lives, from start to finish. Our timelines, however, have more holes than a history text book. It’s oddly comforting, however, that Facebook acknowledges on my timeline that I was born before it existed.
Had Mark Zuckerberg gone to my high school, he would have graduated in my class; we’re the same age. While I was trekking Bascom Hill through several feet of snow at the University of Wisconsin, Z-Man was tucked away at Harvard, developing a little program that would later make him one of the wealthiest people in the world. (That depresses me, by the way.)
I’m now on the precipice of this 10-year reunion and I’m filled with a mixture of dread and curiosity. I have friends who’ve side-stepped their reunions altogether to avoid this uncomfortable experience. The late ‘90s film, Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, gained iconic notoriety because it touches the core of our collective, reunion insecurities and the desire to prove how far we’ve come when confronted with those of our past. In the film, Michele was so desperate to prove a legacy, she claimed to invent Post-Its.
(Courtesy of IMDB.com)
"Christie: So, Mi-chelle! What are you up to?
Michele: Oh, okay. Um, I invented Post-Its.
Christie: No offense, Michele, but how in the world did *you* think of Post-Its?
The truth: Most of the growth we’ve achieved over the past 10 years won’t be perceivable to former classmates this November when we re-unite. Some will have fancy job titles; others will have fancy engagement rings (both of which we’ve already seen on Facebook). If you’re attending a high school reunion to prove something to your class, right a wrong, erase a perception—you’re wasting your time. At the very most, fellow classmates will quietly snicker about how attractive or unattractive you’ve become, or they’ll congratulate you on the babies you’ve birthed. At the very least, they’ll remember who you are. We all edit our lives on Facebook, so they’re coming in knowing the best version of you to date already—hey, you’re ahead.
For many of us, our 20s are a work in progress—particularly with a rough economy—and we might not be ready to gloat and count our chips just yet. At my core, I am who I was in high school, and I always will be—I’m not ashamed.
I’m indebted to Facebook for helping me to re-unite with high school and childhood friends long before this reunion’s arrival. These friends loved me then, know me now and are catching up on my journey.
I’m bemused by Facebook’s daily offerings of insignificant details from friends’ and near-strangers’ lives. At the same time, I’m grateful my high school landscape was a land of misconceptions fed by little information. In hindsight, it was a more innocent time.
I look forward to the awkward—and perhaps creepy—interactions to follow at this reunion. Hopefully, we’ll surprise each other.