Facebook: The Virtual High School Reunion

Last August, there was a blog post on Get Clued In! titled, “Has Social Media Killed The Concept of Interpersonal Relationships?”. The author discussed how only 100 people, from a class of 360+ people, attended their 20 year high school reunion. He/she took into consideration that the the poor attendance at the reunion may have been due to the cost of flights, hotels, etc. However, the acknowledges the fact social media played a large role in the number of guests at the event. A high school reunion isn’t really as necessary anymore. In the past, getting together for a reunion was one of the only ways to find out about the lives of people you hadn’t kept in touch with since graduation. Now, with Facebook and so many other social media platforms, it’s very easy to connect to someone online and find out about his or her life on a website. The article notes, “Facebook substitutes for building interpersonal relationships because it’s easier to interact on-line but yet for some, face-to-face is no longer desired.”

The way in which this article was presented seemed to encapsulate both the social shaping theory and the domestication of technology. As the “middle ground” between technological determinism and social construction of society, social shaping theory examines both the social capabilities that new technologies enable, as well as the new, unforeseen ways that people use them (Baym). In the context of the Get Clued In! post, Facebook was created originally by Mark Zuckerburg for the Harvard community (Mashable). I’m sure Zuckerberg didn’t intend for the web site to one day replace the traditional high school reunion experience. Facebook enabled this social capability and therefore, users were able to utilize Facebook in this way. Futhermore, the story also depicted how Facebook has become second nature to users; people have no need to go see their former classmates for a reunion that will last a few hours because they are exposed to their lives every day via their Facebook newsfeed.

I think that the article was well presented in regards to depicting social shaping and domestication, but I couldn’t help but take issue with the aforementioned quote about Facebook substituting the building of interpersonal relationships; the statement makes it sound as if it isn’t possible to form an interpersonal relationship online. Firstly, I personally view Facebook as a platform on which you maintain connections that you already have in the physical world, not as a platform you would go on to meet new people, such as LinkedIn or Second Life. Google’s dictionary defines “interpersonal” as “of or relating to relationships or communication between people” and “relationship” as “the way in which two or more concepts, objects, or people are connected, or the state of being connected.” From these definitions, it doesn’t seem that an interpersonal relationship is subjected to the real, physical world, which part of the article tends to suggest. Facebook allows people to stay connected and communicate, as well; I think the article could have been presented in a slightly different way that acknowledged this concept. Even though social media sites might be replacing events like high school reunions, it doesn’t mean that interpersonal relationships are starting to disappear, as well.

This idea that interpersonal relationships can form through digital, mediated communication was greatly enforced in the documentary Life 2.0. In the documentary, the relationships that were portrayed in the online community Second Life were depicted as more important than “real world,” physical relationships two times out of three. One story line followed a couple who met and formed a relationship on Second Life and left their real life commitments and spouses to be together outside of the game. Another story line followed a man who was so addicted to Second Life that it ultimately ended his relationship with his fiance. The last story line followed a woman who spent her time on selling clothes in the virtual world of Second Life and exchanging the Linden currency for US dollars as a source of income. However, she lived with her family with whom she interacted with on a daily basis, despite how many hours she spent playing the game. She was also shown socializing with the people she met on the game in the physical world. In this way, I’d say Life 2.0 showed a broader perspective of how social media can affect relationships compared to the Get Clued In! post. In the documentary, it showed that people can connect in the digital world but also acknowledge that relationships still do exist outside of gaming (e.g. the woman’s relationship with her family). I think it’s incorrect to say that Facebook is a substitute. For some people, the relationships created online are just as valuable, if not more valuable, than physical world relationships (an idea explored by Chris in his first post!).

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2 Comments

  1. priyabhikha

     /  February 24, 2012

    I agree with you when you state that Facebook is about “maintaining” relationships rather than “building” them. It actually was the main thing in the article that I took issue with.
    In my personal use of Facebook, I have only “friended” people that I have actually met in real life, albeit briefly. If I do decide to friend someone on Facebook that I have never met, the case is most likely that the person I am “friending” is friend of a friend (who is really good-looking!). Rarely, if ever, do I “friend” someone I don’t know—especially not to build a friendship or even relationship.
    Friending someone I don’t know, however, it totally different from Facebook stalking someone I don’t know. I “facebook stalk” strangers all the time, but I never friend them because my friend request would be evidence of prior Facebook stalking. This may sound strange, but the key to successfully stalking is to leave no trace (ie. no posting, or commenting, or liking).
    That’s not to say that the “maintaining” relationships aspect is true of all social media platforms. In many cases, it is just the opposite—like you say about Second Life. Other platforms that transend the “maintaining” relationships boundaries presented by Facebook include Twitter, Tumblr, and even YouTube! It’s as if there is a social media platform that can be suited to your every need—building and maintaining relationships.

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  2. The idea of Facebook as a replacement of a High School reunion is interesting and very compelling. Great find. It is interesting to think about how many people use Facebook to find old friends and acquaintances more often than they use it to contact their close family and friends. Just like you would at a real High School reunion, people on Facebook try to present themselves as successful, happy, funny, beautiful, etc. It really is, in a sense, a very accurate replacement. I also agree with the articles statement about Facebook replacing interpersonal relationships. Although most people that use Facebook still (hopefully) take part in interpersonal relationships, in this specific case Facebook IS in fact a successful replacement. Today, people in their late 20’s and 30’s do not feel the need to attend a high school reunion because of increased online exposure to and interaction with old friends. I also think it’s wrong to claim that Second Life helps form interpersonal relationships. In the case of the black woman, it did, but the two other instances prove otherwise. The couples interpersonal relationship, as formed by Second Life, was a failure, and the other man ruined his most important interpersonal relationship with Second Life.

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