Facebook Birthdays

Once a year on Facebook you will find your profile inundated with well wishes. This is all well and good but have you ever questioned their authenticity? Do those 129 friends actually care that you have a happy birthday? Or is it just a reflex that kicks in. You see the little birthday notification and you need to write something down. It was my opinion that if someone cared about your birthday then they would know when it was.

A few years ago I wanted to test this. I changed my birthday month from December to April but kept the same day. As the day in April drew closer I was brimming with anticipation. I wanted to see if anyone would call me out on my fake Facebook birthday. I figured that some people would post the ubiquitous “Happy Birthday!!” but I was not prepared for what actually happened.

Two friends came over a few days before my fake birthday. They were so happy that my birthday was in late April, just like their birthdays.

“We wanted to celebrate!” one exclaimed.
“Here! We even got you something!” the other said lovingly handing me my birthday gift.

They gave me a Superman t-shirt but I didn’t feel super. I felt guilty. My heart sank and I had to come clean. I explained the whole concept: that I wanted to see if anyone would notice that it wasn’t my actual birthday. I thanked them for the gift but encouraged them to return it because it wasn’t my real birthday.

They insisted that I keep the shirt. I told them to remember not to buy me anything come December. I told them that’d I’d return the generosity. In my search to see how many Facebook friends really cared about my birthday I found two who cared enough to celebrate it even if it was months away from the real date.

______

I’ve thought about how Facebook has changed the concept of birthdays. I think it is similar to how cell phones have changed our concept of phone numbers. We used to memorize our friends’ numbers but now the phone does it for us. Similarly, Facebook has become a birthday log for us so we don’t need to memorize them.

We all know that it is important to call or text our friends but we don’t need to remember the string of numbers that allows us to reach them. Similarly, it is important to celebrate the lives of our friends, to acknowledge their awesomeness but with social media like Facebook we don’t need to remember the piece of annual data that reminds us to celebrate them. These media take care of that function.

I’m writing about this today because it is the birthday of my friend Amy, one of the great people who gave me that Superman t-shirt on my fake birthday. Happy birthday, Amy!

2 thoughts on “Facebook Birthdays

  1. Clark, really enjoyed this post. I love talking about social media and taking an even closer look at it. I also had the same thought as you did a few years ago when I was thinking about quitting facebook. Am I genuinely wishing someone a happy birthday. I remembered there would be times when I see a birthday notification of a friend that I don’t know very well. I’d hesitate whether I should leave a note on their wall. Because, we haven’t talked for so long or we don’t really know each other THAT well, it’d come off as insincere. However most of the time I still left a message.

    1. That’s a very good point, Andrew. One benefit of social media is that it does give us the opportunity to reach out to people that we may not know very well or have lost touch with. However, there is a risk of it all being awkward. Who knows how they receive it. Sometimes it is the only communication I have with some international friends. I often think “Oh good! They haven’t forgotten about me.”

      I think your comment also brings up another great topic: Facebook friendship. Why are we “friends” with so many people? Is it cheapening the concept of being friends?

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