The eternal class reunion: The guilty pleasure of online social networking

“The past is the past for a reason,” Sam said when I became defensive about my new weapon of mass procrastination. At this point in our ongoing Is Facebook Valuable or Just Ridiculous debate, I was ashamed enough to hide my activity by inconspicuously slamming my laptop shut each time he entered the room. Lacking a solid defense of the social-networking website—and having decided that my Internet presence was plentiful enough—I deactivated my account shortly after I joined. I then mounted my high horse and began a smear campaign.

I called it Fakebook and, like Madeline did to the tiger at the zoo, I pooh-poohed anyone who admitted involvement. I turned my nose up at cyber snow globes and snowball fights and good karma. I guffawed at poking—I generally never guffaw at poking—and rolled my eyes when certain ladies of book club tried to pass it off as a work tool. Riiight. More like a pretend-to-work tool. I sniffed at the sad habit of collecting ex-lovers, those people who shine brightest as a memory but instead come to occupy real estate as smiling thumbnails, babies wrapped in their arms. See how happy he is that he didn’t choose me? I’m so happy for him!

But when you point the finger, there are always three others pointing back at you. Did Jesus say that? Or was it Hippocrates? Either way, one could be blind from birth and still see where this is going. It’s a good thing I’m ravenous for humble pie.

Wishing to track down a certain someone (not an ex), I answered the siren call of Facebook beckoning me back. In no time, I became practically Pavlovian upon seeing “1 friend request” up in the right-hand corner. The anticipation was like Christmas morning each time, even if my growing group of friends consisted mainly of people with whom I work or with whom I drink after work or with whom I drink while bemoaning the trials of parenting and work.

Things were going swimmingly until I logged on one day to find my friend tally was down by one. Some so-called friend hovered their cursor and—pfffft!—excised me. I was instantly offended. How rude! I thought. How could they? And then, What’s wrong with me? Why don’t they like me? And finally, I don’t even know which friend de-friended me. I’m pretty sure I moved through all five stages of grief on the day my friend count dropped from 67 to 66.

Perhaps I’m not only a closeted Facebook hater, but a narcissist as well: Researchers at the University of Georgia have found a correlation between egomania and the slickness of the profile picture, the number of friends and the number of wall posts an individual has. Certainly, double-digit friend count is not winning me any popularity contests, and there are only a few scribbles my wall. But I’m also not posting any photos of myself snapped after a night of sake-induced vomiting, either. Call me solipsistic, but I am not putting that photo up.

The sting of rejection faded and while I haven’t found the person I reactivated for, I’ve been gathering friends from present and past. Some of my Flickr peeps and blog readers have followed me to Facebook, and my self-declared “#1 Fan” sought me out there, too (blush). I even feel semi-important to my writer idols (Mr. Morford, is that a banana in your pocket or…). And while I find the application useful in a (casual) professional capacity, I’ve derived many-a smile from forehead-slapping connections with people who disappeared from my life because—that’s life.

I found two girlfriends with whom I spent a holiday season wrapping gifts at a department store. At 18, we spent most of our money on deeply discounted clothes and cheap beer, memories dormant until I saw their dazzling faces on my computer. Friends from the wild summer of ’89 are doing their thing, collectively and individually, and it’s been fun to reminisce. Sneaking into the Salt Lake Country Club for a midnight skinny-dip was a fleshy blur (I think cops were involved at the end), and the fact that I now reside amongst college woo-hooers is obvious karma for the endless party on Emerson Avenue.

But all in all—and here’s where I alienate any potential friends—there’s a Chevy Chase Grand Canyon vibe to the rekindling. Like the scene in National Lampoon’s Vacation, when the Griswalds peer out across the desert expanse for all of four bouncing seconds before bolting, on Facebook you do the 20-year recap and then—?

Opinions about Facebook abound, and mine are still mixed because, let’s face it, it’s weird! I know someone who was friend requested by a dead woman. Someone else I know—in real life—read and re-read a comment by one of his friends who up and died mere hours after updating his status, his static page offering the eerie possibility of future posts. And no matter how we resist it, those six narrow degrees of separation may inevitably lead us back to the proverbial Mr. Big, who is in the past because that is the only place he belongs. No happy profile picture will ever make you feel better about that ending.

As my best friend, a social-networking holdout said, voicing an anti-Facebook smugness more pointed than mine, “If you’re not in my life now, why would I want you to be there on Facebook? I already put you out once.” The Value Debate rages on with her input. But she’ll see soon enough: I learned during book club that she finally caved to the siren’s cry, too. After hearing familiar deactivation threats, I told her I’d better receive a friend request by 3 p.m. the next day or It. Is. Over.

I logged in 30 minutes later and, what do you know, but I saw those blue words that have me hooked: “1 friend request.”

(As published today in San Diego CityBeat.)

13 Responses to The eternal class reunion: The guilty pleasure of online social networking

  • dgm says:

    I guess the part I still struggle with is the way Facebook triggers us to act and feel like we’re still in high school (or worse, middle school)–feeling dissed if we’re defriended, wanting to know who the culprit was and what I could have done to cause this, even the concept of “friends” to describe people that in some cases, we don’t even really know in any meaningful sense. But we want a lot of them so that we can feel good about ourselves.

    Most of my group of college friends, women in their mid-40s, are on Facebook now. They keep trying to get me to join, but then a little tiff developed between them when one wrote something on another’s wall and another one saw it and then it all escalated and others got involved and expressed strong opinions…Are we 14 again? God, I hope not.

    Having said all that, there are people I’d love to hear from again. Maybe I should just send them an old-fashioned, hand-written letter.

  • Wall posts are counted? Fo’ realz?

    Excellent piece, Aaryn.

  • Malcolm says:

    Enjoyed this. Tend to agree with Chris that I don’t think there’s any turning back.

    I’ve used myspace for a couple of years and more recently facebook but not to get in touch with old friends but to keep in touch with young ones – friends of my deceased son. They seem to be equally keen to keep in touch with me but maybe they are just very kind.

    After my son died his myspace site became a place where his friends could keep in touch with him. He has hundreds of post death messages! Weird – maybe. Moving – definitely. (Maybe that’s the ultimate keeping in touch with old friends!!)

  • Pingback: Facebook and Social Networking | Chris Teso - Director of Interactive : Flash Designer Developer : Portland Photographer

  • chris says:

    What’s more odd than Facebook to me is the fact that you analyze how odd Facebook is. I see this over and over again. People talking about online communities as if they are an alternate reality. Or how socially weird they are. Some people like my aunt are downright frightened of them. Truth is, they’re as real as your neighbor and as odd as them too. And what’s more, they’re here to stay, only to develop more “realness” as technology develops. Resisting them is akin to halting evolution. It’s human destiny to augment our reality and merge with machines. Facebook, and the internet in general, are first baby steps in a larger leap towards a heightened human self awareness. Sounds crazy/scary, right? But this merger just may make us more human, as we currently define it, in the end.

    If you’re so concerned with people from your deleted past rekindling an unwanted relationship, I’d ask why would this concern you? It’s no different than meeting them in grocery store after 10 years. You know, you’d say 10 words to them and never see or talk with them again. Facebook’s the same way. You accept their friend request and then never speak. I’d say Facebook is even more betterer in the fact that you don’t have to accept the request in the first place, thus negating any awkward 10 word conversation.

    I could go on and on about the growing global consciousness, the genius of twitter and human augmented intelligence, but you probably think I’m already weird enough to delete me… So, while I appreciate a solid griswald reference more than most, I must disagree with your overanalysis and hesitation to use a form of communication such as Facebook. Once you realize that Facebook IS life, no different from the one you recall just some short years ago, you may be in a better place to embrace it.

  • melanie says:

    LOL! OMG! I love you so much I can’t stand it!! I noticed one day too that my friends had dropped by one and I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who it had been and it bothered me all day that someone decided they didn’t like me after all. And then I thought, “But why do I care if I can’t even figure out who it was!!?”

    I signed on in March of last year, then deactivated and didn’t reactivate until August and my father who hasn’t spoken to me in 10 years “friended” me. Weird. I don’t get into the poking and applications too much but it’s fun to peek into other peoples lives and hope they’re doing worse than me if I didn’t really like them to begin with. :D

  • LilSass says:

    I don’t know who this so-called “#1 Fan” is you refer to but um … I’m not on FB so I don’t know who that impostor is.

    I am so completely against FB it’s not even funny. But why re-state what you already know … my internet world and my real life world very rarely converges. And if the only thing we have in common is the past, that’s how it will stay. High school and college were great times for me but as my old adage goes, “If I wanted to be friends with you, I would be.” I don’t do half-assed friendships or surface value “connections”. So … you’re either in my life or you’re not. FB serves merely as a conduit to stalk or gossip about old “friends” which to me, hmmm … sounds just like high school!

    Gag me with a spoon~

  • i love that Chevy Chase Grand Canyon allegory. Facebook is exactly that for me.

    And in a related sidebar, a girl I knew for ONE YEAR when I was 9 FB’d me, read my blog, and called me “manic.” i mean, she did it with “no disrespect intended,” but I was left wondering just how much of an impact I wanted my digital friends to have on my real life.

    I think I agree with your best friend’s summation.

  • Mrs. G. says:

    I’m with Sam.

    No Facebook for me!

  • GaryJ says:

    Oh, Facebook is an addiction. I think it’s harmless unless maybe you forget to eat, or feed your children or go to work, etc. But recently I had just got reacquainted with people I was in Drum & Bugle Corps 25 years ago! And high school mates, And Army pals. It is a reunion, only less awkward.

  • san says:

    Wow, it’s so amazing how you put in words what has been blurrily in my mind for a long time. Yes, I am on Facebook. We might even be friends. But I still feel a bit uncomfortable every time I log in or update my “status” ;)

  • I too am a recent convert. So far I am still too busy to poke or be poked.

  • Kerry says:

    I love this post so much. I was encouraged by some friends to join because it was (as they said) harmless, blah-blah. It’s been cool to see some long lost friends etc. but I keep thinking that it’s a bit strange, and for some reason makes me a bit uncomfortable…

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