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Blog, Communications, Culture

You Say It’s Your Birthday…or, at least Facebook does


I woke up this morning much in the way I wake up every morning: languidly stuttering out of bed. Normally, though, I make a bee-line towards the coffee maker, make some joe and then glide over to the computer (if we call the television, “the idiot box,” what can we call the computer?) to begin my morning ritual of checking, simultaneously, the news from overnight and my social networks. Not today.

When I hit Facebook, it’s typically to see whose birthday it is, and wouldn’t you know it, Facebook tells me today is my birthday! Thank goodness for Facebook otherwise I would have no idea that on this day, 33 years ago, I emerged from the womb into this wacky, wild world.

But then a curious thing happened. People started wishing me a happy birthday on Facebook. People whom I’ve known in previous lives, but for the most part, are not part of my life now. Slate’s David Plotz has a fun article about setting up fake birthdays to test if his friends on Facebook are actually his friends.

Of the 498 people I’m ‘friends’ with on Facebook, I know every one of them in some capacity. Some, obviously, more than others. Of the 498 people I’m friends with on Facebook, 10% wished me a happy birthday (and also a “hope it’s a good one” – or some variaton). Of those, 18 are people I went to high school with, many of whom I haven’t seen nor talked to for years. But glad to hear from them, even if it’s only once per revolution around the Sun. Another 4 are friends from college; we parted ways a while ago. Some to different parts of the country, some to different parts of life. Several former colleagues from various places of employment, some Twitter/Tumblr friends that are also friends on Facebook, and some reporter-friends also wished me well.

I started thinking about online relationships, while no substitute for actual human interaction, can be equally as gratifying. Anyone who tells you they don’t enjoy, at least a little bit, people wishing you well is a troubled soul. It doesn’t matter if they know you well or only from behind a computer screen, how does it not feel good to know that someone took some time from their day to wish you a good one? 

But I also thought about relationships with friends I’ve had for years (and decades, for many). There’s still a line of demarcation between friends you know and friends you know. The friends you know (italicized) are the ones you know will take a bullet for you. Or, at the very least, let you ride shotgun if you’re car sick. These are your bridesmaids and groomsmen, your dinner party guests, the godparents to your children. These are the friends who won’t wish you a happy birthday on Facebook, but through more personal modes of communication: phone, text, email, IM, birthday card (well, only my wife, parents and sister sent me a card).

I received 4 IM’s, 8 emails and 7 texts from friends and loved ones hoping that my day would be good, happy, fun…all positive words. I am, as my wife would say, a grinch when it comes to birthdays. For many years, I moaned that it’s just a number, or, it’s just another day. But that was before Facebook. 

While I may not be as giddy as others who wind up celebrating their birthdays for a whole week, nor will I make sure to wish everyone a happy birthday via Facebook, I am now a bit more comfortable with the not-so-quite-but-almost awkward Facebook birthday messages. 

What are your thoughts on Facebook birthday messages? Yay or nay?

About joshsternberg

Josh Sternberg is a writer based in Brooklyn, NY, covering digital media and publishing for Digiday. Other articles have been published in The Atlantic, The Awl, Current, The Huffington Post, Mashable & Mediaite.

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