I had my 20-year high school reunion last night. To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go, though now I am immensely glad that I did. Had I decided to sit it out, I would have blamed Facebook. Since joining Facebook in March 2005, I have reconnected with all kinds of high school acquaintances. I mean all kinds: some friends that I hung out with, some people I only remembered vaguely, and some people who traveled in different crowds than I did. Mostly, though, I made Facebook friends with Republicans.
The high school I attended was rural, private, and almost entirely white. Don’t get me wrong: I flourished there and made some very good friends, at least one of whom I still hang around with in real life. But let’s just say that there weren’t very many Dukakis bumper stickers on cars (or trucks) in 1988; I think my friend Tasha had the only one. It was and still is Republican country. Moreover, a number of the students who graduated with me chose not to go to college, opting instead to join the family business. Many married their high school sweethearts and stayed right there in the small town, just a few streets away from the high school.
If this sounds like a caricature in the making, it isn’t. But reconnecting with these folks on Facebook was dangerous business. They’d shoot off politically incendiary status lines calling Obama a socialist or singing the praises of Glen Beck. I would respond in kind, and then the Facebook war would begin: post after post of polarizing political discourse, none of it going anywhere. It was, to paraphrase Barney Frank, like trying to win an argument with a dining room table. I’m sure they felt the same way about me.
Last night at the reunion, though, many of these Facebook friends approached me, showed pictures of kids, asked about my job and family, and relived a few funny times when we were all much, much younger. No one talked politics. It was not all small talk, but neither was it the ideological junk politics that dominate Facebook discussions, if they can be called that.
I was tempted to skip the reunion, thinking that Facebook had shown me everything I needed to know about an entire set of people. Maybe a few of my sparring partners thought the same way about me. But I’m glad I went. Just an old guy, I suppose, singing the virtues of face to face communication.