How Facebook Ruined the High School Reunion

For all of its virtues, Facebook has killed the element of surprise at the traditional high school reunion.

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"Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" (Touchstone Pictures)

I always used to imagine high school reunions as the ultimate showcase for reversals of social fortune -- the once-bullied nerd arrives at his 10-year with a swimsuit model on his arm and Google stock in his portfolio; the overweight late bloomer becomes the stylish fashion editor; and on the opposite end, the jock and head cheerleader (villains in American high school lore) show up sad and broken, having peaked at age 18.

Dramatic, yes, but my perceptions were largely shaped by an overconsumption of '80s high school movies. Before I even reached my teen years, I understood that a major part of what used to make these events special was the unknown. Who made a lot of money? Who got fat? Who got skinny? Who has kids? And of course, which nerdy guy is engaged to a Naomi Campbell?

Unfortunately for former geeks with revenge fantasies, that crucial element of surprise is largely gone for the 20-somethings now approaching their 10-year reunions. Blame Mark Zuckerberg.

By the time I got the invite to mine in 2009, I was already "friends" with a sizable portion of my high school graduating class. Thanks to the power of Facebook, I not only knew who was engaged; I also knew who was openly gay, I knew whose kids were cute and whose were not, I knew who had really good wedding photographers, I knew who had started a jewelry business, I knew who thought Barack Obama's Hawaii birth certificate was faked and I knew who dropped everything to watch Dancing With the Stars.

It didn't take much thought; I hit the decline button on the Evite. "Catching up with old acquaintances" -- the cornerstone of the high school reunion -- just doesn't have the same appeal it did before Facebook. All I could picture was my former classmates and me struggling to hear conversations over a sound track of songs from 1999 and pretending not to already know the superficial facts folks share with people they haven't seen in a while. Clearly, Facebook had already given me all of the "catching up" opportunities I needed.

To those who might say I embody the most prevalent negative stereotypes of my generation -- that we've become antisocial texting-Tweeting-Facebooking machines woefully unacquainted with the fine art of the conversation or the snail-mail letter -- I say you're wrong (except for the snail-mail part; I'll e-mail you). I talk to my husband, close friends and family all the time. During the holidays, when my best friends from high school are all in town, we go to lunch and talk and reminisce. None of them went to our reunion, either.

So no, I don't spend all of my time on various social networking sites creepily stalking people I used to know. Despite the fact that I work on one all day, I do have a life outside of the computer. And I'm also not opposed to the idea of attending reunions in the post-Facebook era.

My college friends and I are excited about our school's black alumni weekend, a reunion of sorts held on campus every three years. In many ways, this reunion will be as redundant as I suspected my high school one would be, but my dearest friends, many of whom I never get to see outside of Facebook, will be there.

Perhaps that's the difference -- I was apathetic about my high school reunion because I don't have many deep and lasting relationships from those years. High school wasn't a nightmare, by any stretch of the imagination, but as one of only a handful of black students at my suburban-Virginia school, I felt like an outsider much of the time.

I have fond memories of some of the people with whom I shared those four years, but at this point, we are less like real friends and more like acquaintances. And now that technology has forever altered how we communicate with one another, an organized reunion is no longer necessary to maintain those connections.

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