With Facebook, birthdays aren’t what they used to be

By Lisa Sugarman

So last week was my birthday. (The actual number is irrelevant, so don’t ask.) But because I’m not someone who makes or expects any kind of a fuss over celebrating The Day, it was more or less just a typical Wednesday. And quite frankly, that’s exactly the way I’ve always liked it.

I’m a minimalist with most things, especially with my birthday.e992d44c38730e03cf6a357d8f371e93

I know that everyone celebrates special occasions—birthdays in particular—in very different ways. There are people who make a big deal out of them and people who don’t and a complete range of people in between. And while I totally get why some people choose to go all out and celebrate the day they were born with lavish parties and Food-Network-worthy cakes, I, myself, do not. It’s nothing more than a personal choice. There’s no judgement involved. I’ve just always been perfectly content with being wished a happy birthday and calling it a day.

Ok, well, maybe not completely calling it a day.

I’m not the girl who wants a big gathering or party or celebration to commemorate the day I was born. If anything, I feel more like that should be the day I celebrate my mom and the fact that she gave birth to me alone in a Los Angeles hospital while my dad was circling the LAX airspace during a flight delay. But that’s an altogether different story.

As far as birthdays go, it boils down to this: I really just don’t like the extra attention. I do, however, love not being allowed to cook, getting special dispensation to pick and choose where we go for dinner, and have the unwritten law that none of my children are allowed to be annoying for a 24-hour period. That’s pretty much where the expectations stop for me.

More than anything, though, my birthday is a justifiable opportunity for me to eat cake and legitimately hosie the piece with the biggest flower. And be assured that I get it. Beyond that, I’ve always been content with July 15th being just like any ordinary day. And that’s probably because I’m way fonder of making a fuss over other people than I am about having the fuss made over me.caramel-cake-slice

Then, a few years ago, I experienced my first Facebook birthday. And it unexpectedly caused a bit of a shift in my thinking.

All of a sudden, the whole world seemed to know, and care, that it was my birthday. People everywhere—people I’d forgotten I even knew—were reaching out to wish me the very best possible birthday ever. People posted old (and in some cases slightly embarrassing) photos of me on my Timeline with special birthday messages and inside jokes from back in the day. People jockeyed to be among the first wave to send me birthday wishes, posting on my Facebook page at 1:00 AM to ensure that their message was appropriately time stamped.

It was kinda crazy, actually. Crazy in a good way. Well wishes poured in from all over the world. My Timeline was saturated with birthday-cake emoticons and hearts and streamers and messages from people I hadn’t interacted with in decades. It almost singlehandedly changed the entire feel of the traditional birthday.

I’d be out for a run or a walk around town and local friends who saw my birthday pop up on their News Feed were yelling Happy Birthday to me out of car windows. A slightly different experience than the sweet-but-predictable birthday card I got every year from my Aunt Celia and the awkward annual birthday phone call from my Grandma Jen.

And I have to admit, for the first time in a while, I sorta liked all the extra attention. And I think I know why. It’s because it was almost exclusively one-dimensional affection. I could receive it in my bathroom or while I was eating breakfast or riding in the car or dozing in bed. It was just meant to be received, no strings attached. No three-dimensional fuss or fanfare. Just real, bonafide well-wishes coming from every possible direction.facebook%20birthday%20nine_1

Ok, look, I’m not stupid. I know that Facebook, along with the rest of the cyber world, is fake. For most of us, the great majority of our online “friends” are barely acquaintances. So that means that a pretty good number of the birthday wishes we get on our birthday are more or less canned greetings. But the thing about Facebook is, that even the token birthday messages we get gives us a sense that people care. And no matter how you slice it, that sensation of being on someone’s mind, even for a minute, gives most of us a warm and fuzzy.

And that right there is what makes Mark Zuckerberg such a genius. He knew that whether the affection people got was real or fake it didn’t matter because people just want to feel special. People want to feel acknowledged. People want to feel loved. And on Facebook, if only on our birthday, we do.

So even though we live in a world that celebrates roughly 350,000 birthdays on any given day of the year, (which unmistakably dilutes the essence of the individual birthday), on Facebook, on July 15th, it’s all about me. And I can most definitely live with that.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at facebook.com/ItIsWhatItIsColumn. She is also the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and select Whole Foods Market stores.

 

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