More than 100 alumni came back to campus to help students get a head start on their careers at Working Weekend.
More than 100 alumni came back to campus to help students get a head start on their careers at Working Weekend.

Spirit of the Airwaves

Reed groups blow up on Facebook, but work great in real life. Why?

By Chris Lydgate ’90 | March 1, 2015

Ding. Facebook beckons. 

Ding. Hey, they like my comment. 

Ding. Wait, no they don’t! 

Ding . . . 

One of the vaunted powers of social media is its ability to connect people—anywhere, any time—at the swipe of a finger.

This multitentacled matrix of constant connectivity is a mixed blessing, however. Like many alumni, I take part in Reed-related groups on Facebook. The exchanges are usually thoughtful, nostalgic, passionate, and fun—often all at once. But over winter break, the atmosphere on my favorite group took a dramatic turn for the worse. The conversation deteriorated into a sort of trench warfare between generational camps. Old Reedies were written off as intolerant troglodytes. New Reedies were denigrated as hair-trigger zealots of political correctness. Fur and feathers flew.

Ironically, the squabbling reached its nadir at the same moment that Reed witnessed a dramatic show of intergenerational altruism—Working Weekend, the annual event that brings alumni back to campus to help students get a headstart on their careers. This year, more than 100 alumni and parents volunteered their time, expertise, and connections to a record 230 students.

The contrast between the two worlds—the virtual and the real—couldn’t have been more stark. While cyberspace seethed, I stood in Kaul Auditorium and listened to the exuberant din of hundreds of students and alumni swapping stories, sharing insights, and opening their rolodexes. Online we were putting each other down. In real life, we were helping each other out.

For me, the weekend was a vivid reminder of the power of networking in the old-fashioned sense—students and alumni talking face to face. It also confirmed the perils of networking in the newfangled sense—that while social media can connect us, it can also consume us. 

Like Abraham Lincoln, I believe in the better angels of our nature—and try to summon them whenever I’m on Facebook.

Tags: Alumni, Life Beyond Reed