My Fake Facebook Birthdays
What happened when I celebrated my Facebook birthday on July 11. And July 25. And July 28.
On July 28, the superlative was gone: "Wishing you a very happy birthday David & a terrific year!"
Some of the repeat-greeters, perhaps hoping to differentiate their contributions, had developed their own birthday formulas. Ben S. on July 11: "HBD DP! Hope this is your best new year evuh." On July 25: "HBD DP! Hope this is your best new year evuh." And on July 28, ""HBD DP! Everybody down South is hopin' this is your best new year evuh."
Don't mistake my observation for derision. Mass electronic communication is destroying our memories, since we rely on devices to protect us from embarrassing ourselves. I routinely send an email to a friend on a Tuesday, and then send her exactly same email on Thursday. Even so, the Facebook fake birthday experiment did end up confirming my worst fears about the network. All too many birthday wishes are autonomic, sent without thought or personal feeling. It's one thing to remember your friend's birthday because you took him out a decade ago for his drunken 21st birthday debauch. It's much lamer to "remember" your friend's birthday because Facebook told you to. A significant number of Facebookers clearly use the service without sentiment, attempting to build social capital—undeserved social capital—with birthday greetings that they haven't thought about based on birthday memories of you that they don't actually have.
And yet my three-birthday July was not completely demoralizing. An encouraging number of my friends—many of them my actual friends—were so socially alert that they cottoned on to my manipulation of the Facebook birthday system. And these friends who saw through my experiment didn't let it darken their mood or cause them to spread ill will: Almost everyone who recognized that my birthday was bogus wished me a Happy Birthday anyway, like Eileen H.: "Did I not just wish u this? Well, hbd s'more!" They sought to increase good feeling in the world—and toward me, even though they knew I didn't deserve it.
David Plotz is the Editor of Slate. He's the author of The Genius Factory: The Curious History of the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank and Good Book. He appears on Slate's Political Gabfest.
Illustration by Robert Neubecker.