I’m currently in the middle of my first fake birthday. It’s like my real birthday in that I don’t care about it, and my email inbox is full of FaceBook greetings; but it’s unlike my real birthday in the sense that my wife didn’t fall for it, and so I got no presents.
Today I’m running the sort of experiment that idle-minded procrastinators do on a whim. I changed my FaceBook birthday to a random day to see who would notice. I intended to do it every week or two to see how long it took for the greetings to dry up or be replaced with abuse, but FaceBook is obviously tired of fake birthdays, and so limits the number of birthday changes one is allowed to make.
It’s not a clever joke, and the results are not surprising. Predictably, I have received about 30 birthday messages, and only 3 non-family-members have noticed that it’s not actually my birthday. My favourite messages have wished me ‘many more’. (I’m trying, people, but FaceBook won’t let me.)
In no way is this meant to be an accusation or an indictment on anyone who believed the lie. I would have. I don’t expect you to remember my birthday, and you can be certain that I don’t know yours, unless you belong to my immediate family. I’m useless. I don’t know my grandparents’ birthdays, my in-laws, my nephews and nieces; no one. So I’m grateful that FaceBook tells me these things.
But I do think that there is a reminder in this. We allow things like FaceBook to take over the details of our relationships so that we don’t have to make the effort to remember the important dates and numbers connected to the people that we really care about. It’s nice to know that my FaceBook friends care enough to wish me happy birthday, but it’s not a lot of care. For how many people would you actually pick up the phone and speak to them on their birthday? When last did you write someone a letter, as opposed to emailing a funny cat picture to a group? You can’t automate relationships; time and effort are unfortunately key ingredients.
For this same reason, the greetings that we send each other also tend to lose their meaning. Because I know very well that the FaceBook message that I get on my real birthday is as prompted and generic as the one I get on my fake birthday, it tends not to mean very much. I have 300 or 4oo friends, and about 10% responded to the prompt and wished me happy birthday. Only 1% were aware that it is not actually my birthday. The same will be true in January when the messages come in again. How touched should I be?
So, keep those messages coming. Maybe even throw in a FarmVille gift or something. But I certainly need reminders often enough that real friendships require proper cultivation and commitment, and we’re not exactly set up these days to go much beyond the fakery of FaceBook. Figure out who your real-life friends are, and invest deeply in those people.