The Vastly Larger Networks of Today’s Grads

Isn’t it amazing that today’s high school grads will still know the names of all their high school classmates in 20 years? Their former JV soccer buddies, cafeteria archenemies, and long lost heart-throbs will all be a click away in whatever the social network of the day is.

They won’t necessarily be in active contact with each and every compatriot from adolescence, but they’ll most likely be connected as weak ties such that if they wanted to find out what ever happened to so-and-so, they wouldn’t just have to wonder — they could pull up the person’s latest contact and employment info based on a simple search.

Compare this to the average person over age 30 who’s probably connected to just a handful of friends from high school. Yes, he could pull out the yearbook and try re-establish some weak tie via online connection with his classmates, but that’s a pain. High school grads of today are already connected and stay connected over the years. Each day I log into Facebook and see my News Feed which reports on the activities of various old classmates I now have only a marginal interest in. But I nonetheless scan it and stay abreast simply because it’s so easy.

I’m fascinated to see what happens as my age demographic moves into college and then the workforce. Facebook reached the masses when we were in high school. We went to college with at least 200 existing weak ties from high school classmates, and in college we’ll accumulate probably twice as many. By the time I graduate in 2011, I expect my average college friend will have at least 500 connections on a service like Facebook that are legitimate (ie, genuine weak ties that resulted from some shared experience or interaction).

500 connections to people you went to school with. 500 people for whom you remember their name and interests with a little help from a social network. 500 people for whom you have updated contact information, location, and career status. At age 22. Society, in other words, is going to be flooded with the most networked generation ever.

For the grad, that technology has made this possible is only good news, with one exception: the possibility of confusing a weak tie with a strong relationship. Trading emails once a year with an old classmate, or monitoring their Facebook profile from time to time, does not mean you are good friends with the person. It’d be a shame to realize at age 30 that while you “know” a gazillion people who can all help you find jobs or recommend local restaurants (benefits not to be underrated), you actually know no one at the core.

Still, I’m hugely upbeat about growing up in a world where I will stay connected with hundreds of classmates and colleagues who I meet throughout all of my formal schooling. And I’m curious to see how this uber-connectedness will affect our lives over time.

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