Christopher Mims

A View from Christopher Mims

How Facebook Killed Your School Reunion

Occasionally a trend story refuses to die because it’s true.

  • May 8, 2011

It started in 2007 as idle speculation on a handful of blogs: “Will high school reunions simply become a dreary coffee date for the people of your graduation class who *aren’t* on Facebook?”

In 2008 the speculation became a little more mainstream – Adam Kushner of Newsweek hypothesized that if Facebook hurt reunion attendance, it could also hurt alumni giving. He proposed a test – in 2009, the class of 2004 would have an opportunity to attend its first reunion. That was the first year that Facebook was more or less ubiquitous on college campuses, so if the speculation were true, the reunions of 2009 would see a drop in attendance.

2009 seemed to prove Kushner right. Jenna Wortham at the New York Times Bits blog declared that Facebook had robbed her of all motivation to attend her five-year college reunion. The class of 2004 was behaving exactly as Kushner predicted.

As my friend Alexis, a 2004 Harvard graduate who also decided to skip his coming five-year reunion, put it: “The infotech out there has reduced the desire to go ‘just to know’ what so-and-so is up to. I know what just about everyone is doing.”

Wortham reported that she and her colleagues were no longer tantalized by the prospect of finding out what had happened to whom.

In 2009 the Facebook-is-killing-reunions trend story became an official part of the annual journalistic calendar, like stories about the war on Christmas or tips for singles on Valentine’s day. Time reported that in some cases Facebook was inspiring reunions that wouldn’t otherwise happen, while in others it was killing them off:

“There was a Facebook page for my 20-year college reunion, which took place this May,” [says Deborah Dietzler, executive director of alumni relations at the University of Georgia]. “I looked at it a couple of times and it didn’t seem like anyone I knew would be there, so I lost interest.”

By 2010 it was on the Huffington Post of big media, CNN, which declared Facebook’s positive and negative effects on reunions a wash. Clearly no one had yet to go beyond studying it anecdotally.

Skip to the present day, and the data have finally arrived. Timothy Davis, co-founder of the reunion-organizing site Classreport.com, tells The Baltimore Sun that he’s noticed fewer reunions nationwide, with the trend especially pronounced among people in their mid to late 20’s.

What’s it all mean? I don’t know. Probably that we’ll have to endure these stories until the only place that even bothers to report this footnote in the great dematerialization brought about by the web and social media is AARP The Magazine.

Hear more about Facebook at EmTech MIT 2017.

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