A Very Facebook Birthday

June 11, 2011

My birthday just passed, and many of my friends sent Happy Birthday wishes.

On Facebook.

And while there is no plugin birthday greetings analytics tool I can point and click on… I used a bit of addition and division and elementary statistics to determine – slightly more than 88% percent of my birthday greetings came in via Facebook.

I am not sure, exactly, whether to be happy or sad??!!

It is obviously great to be remembered – and semi-publicly toasted – especially on special occasions.

But in the grand scale of things I wonder…

How satisfying is a birthday high-five (or is that a fist-bump) on Facebook.       Really.

My kids, who have more “friends” than there are people in the Manhattan phone book (if there were a Manhattan phone book anymore),  get hundreds of these one liners on their birthday.  I have fewer friends, so I got fewer messages.

Read them.  I’d like to believe they were heart felt.

Let’s face it. On Facebook, most communications make a Tweet seem like War and Peace.

And this set me to wondering – on the viewser birthday satisfaction scale – is a shout out on Facebook equivalent to getting a greeting card in the mail? By way of definitions, for those of you who don’t know what a greeting card is (or was) – it was a paper communication, that was printed with the kind of thing you wish you were clever enough to write.  All you had to do was buy it (at the drugstore), sign it, address it and mail it. For those of you who don’t know what mail is, that will be the subject of another blog post.

The card is just so much pre-packaged sentiment.

But what makes a greeting card more fun is that there is privacy involved in the sending. The sender may actually write something personal – and that usually that triggers a response in me stronger than – ok, it’s just a card – but really, it’s the thought that counts.

And I also like that I can save the card in a box that I probably will never look in, and my wife will suggest I dump every 10 years or so.

Facebook long ago became the primary way to send birthday greetings. Why?

A couple of reasons… first and foremost – convenience.  You are automatically reminded of the birthday, there is no expense in buying the card, no licking the stamp, no seeing whether the address is correct.

Also, when a friend sends Happy Birthday greetings on Facebook – all the sender’s friends know it.  And this public sharing of their action – this informing the world that they are doing the right thing by sending a friend a greeting – also probably satisfies some deep seated psychological need they have. Or not.

What does Facebook get out of this?

Well, of course Facebook exists to monetize each interaction by collecting and mining all the data they possibly can from you, me and our friends.  Every time we do something on Facebook, that keystroke is recorded and stored. It has value that the company can re-sell, probably in the form of a contextually relevant ad served to you or me or our friends in the future.

I know Hallmark built its own empire on sales of cards for generations.  But I don’t think they ever really had any personal data on file about me or my friends.

For those who don’t know, there actually are alternatives to Facebook birthday greetings.

My all-time favorite is still some kind of cake… big enough to hold a few candles, and some family and/or friends around singing.

Next to that, I prefer the phone call. I find that while type conveys the message, the added components of tone, volume, inflection, and just plain hearing the voice of someone I haven’t heard in a long time is a very satisfying way to reconnect.

But I am a dinosaur. I get fewer and fewer calls each year. And the cakes get smaller.

Like that guy (in the Facebook comments, above)  says – or threatens –

“Happy Birthday, my friend. Have a great year and we’ll do this all over again next year.”

He is right, and I will probably look forward to it.

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