Allow me to start with a confession: I am a Facebook junkie. I use Facebook as part of my work, to monitor my daughter's social life, to play Scrabble (not well) and to entertain myself and, hopefully, others. I revel in hearing "you're my funniest Facebook friend" or "I love your status updates."
I joined Facebook about two years ago. Being a social person with limited time to socialize, it was the perfect solution, bringing the social to my fingertips. I amassed Facebook friends as if there was a competition, almost never turning down a request. I loved it.
Sure, FarmVille annoyed me and I had to block it, and I once unfriended someone whose aggressive political rantings often offended me. But over all, the rush of peeking into people's lives quickly became addictive.
I find people interesting, and I thought reading snippets about their proudest accomplishments, biggest disappointments and the minutiae of their daily routines, often accompanied by photos and videos, meant I was getting to know them.
And because I find people interesting, I was excited to go to my high-school reunion. Seeing many of them in person would be great. Or so I thought.
At 45, it's been more than 25 years since I graduated. Ten years ago, on the occasion of my school's 40th anniversary, I went to the reunion with my sister and a few friends and loved every minute of it.
I had been neither popular nor unpopular in high school, neither bookish nor a burnout. I straddled the invisible yet powerful line between my academically gifted girlfriends and my group of male friends who would all return for the "victory lap" of Grade 14.
I gratefully greeted teachers who had somehow seen past my slacker façade and let them know their belief in my potential had not been misplaced. I visited the scenes of some of my happiest memories, and watched excitedly as my newly divorced sister met up with an old high-school flirtation. But the best part was catching up with people I hadn't seen in years.
These were not my nearest and dearest. Some I hadn't actually liked. But these people had accompanied me, even peripherally, on my journey from adolescence to the brink of adulthood. Some had known me since earliest childhood.
My friends and I wondered what had happened to the prettiest girl - was she still beautiful or had she, as we guiltily hoped, gained weight like the rest of us. The quiet boys who hung out in the math hallway - did they grow up to be happily married engineers, or were they as lonely as they had seemed back then? The secrets and surprises awaited me, and I was not disappointed.
So when I found out - through Facebook, of course - that the school was turning 50 and there was a big bash planned, I immediately registered on the reunion site and at my nearest Weight Watchers.
A lot had changed in 10 years. I was still happily married, but my daughter was no longer a baby and I had given birth to a son. I now have a good job, a job that my mother is proud of, even if she can never remember my exact title. Some of my closest friends had married in the intervening years, and some divorced. One of my beloved high-school boys had, sadly, died.
The reunion was on a recent weekend but it was nothing like the previous one. I had an okay time and left feeling vaguely disappointed and saddened. But I couldn't figure out why until I went on Facebook and saw all the status updates and photos from people who had been there. And then it hit me.
This was not a true reunion, because I had been virtually - and superficially - reunited with so many people through Facebook. I knew who had lost their hair, had plastic surgery, started new jobs. I knew what the prettiest girl looked like; in fact, I often knew what she had eaten for dinner. The element of surprise was gone.
Without the need for a catch-up Q&A, with all the small talk taken care of online, there was no entry to conversation. I tried with a few people, even asking one nice man who had dated a friend of mine how his Lego creations were coming along. We chuckled and quickly moved on to try to find people we were still curious about.
Even bumping into my ex-sister-in-law was only thrilling for the first hug. She had been a huge part of my childhood, and it had been years since I had seen her. Because she was my Facebook friend though, there was no shock at how we'd each aged, no rapid-fire discovery about our spouses and children and jobs. I know her politics and I know that she's no longer a vegetarian, and she similarly knows about me. After a few minutes, one of us said "See you on Facebook" and walked away.
Facebook had taken away the elements of surprise and curiosity, the excitement of getting to know someone for the first time or again. I feel saddened that my children will not know a world in which you actually need to connect with someone - away from a computer - to earn the right to know about their lives.
One happy note came of the reunion though: My sister and her husband celebrated their 10th anniversary on the spot they'd found each other (without Facebook).
Susan Sperling lives in Vaughan, Ont.