What’s With All The Uber-Public Birthday Greetings On Social Media?

And how the hell are you supposed to respond when 56 virtual strangers wish you happy birthday on your facebook wall?


by Rebecca Holman |
Published on

We’re big fans of Jemima Khan and her lovely swishy hair and freakish refusal to age. But yesterday, she made us go a bit twitchy when wished her boyfriend – professional politician botherer and part-time comedian Russell Brand – happy birthday on Twitter. The fact that she called him a ‘diamond encrusted revolutionary’ was bad enough, but what’s with the social media shout out? Can’t she just… Wish him happy birthday in person?

If they were at opposite ends of the world, that would have been sort-of okay (although, not really, because that’s what Skype, phones, email, texting and DM-ING ON TWITTER ARE FOR), but all evidence suggests that Jemima was in the same room as old @Rustyrockets at the time (she Tweeted a picture of a him holding a diamond-encrusted necklace spelling ‘revolutionary’ – hence the wording of the Tweet. Presumably this was what she bought him for his birthday, because what else do you get the narcissist who has everything?).

But to be fair to Jemima, if she hadn’t Tweeted him happy birthday, we would all be speculating today that the couple were on the rocks. Because the social media foghorn birthday shout out has become the norm. If you don’t wish someone happy birthday in public, where everyone else can see it, you might as well have said nothing at all, you heartless, birthday-ignoring bastard.

And because everyone’s doing it, it’s become political. For example, if you wish someone happy birthday on their Facebook wall, are you still obliged to send them a text, or give them a call? No? But what about if they’re a really good friend? Why should they get the exact same level of birthday greeting that you give to your cousin’s best friend’s wife, whom you’ve met three times?

How many virtual birthday greetings from virtual strangers are equal to one text or phone call from an actual friend who remembered it was your birthday?

Similarly, what happens when it’s your birthday? Do you take note of who’s wished you happy birthday each year and crucially, who hasn’t, retaining that information in the recesses of your brain for the next time someone asks you a favour? More to the point, just because someone you vaguely know has been told it’s your birthday (courtesy of Facebook!), and they have a quick and easy way of acknowledging this, does it mean they’re a terrible person if they don’t do it? Even if you haven’t seen them in six years? And do you then have to go and thank every single person who’s left you a highly impersonal birthday greeting individually, or will one catch-all ‘thanks for the birthday wishes’ status update suffice?

And then there’s the most important question of them all: How many virtual birthday greetings from virtual strangers are equal to one text or phone call from an actual friend who remembered it was your birthday (without Facebook) and wanted to check in? Five? Ten? 20?

If you want evidence of how bizarre this practice of mutual, ineffectual bum-licking has become, check out this blog post from journalist Brad Wheelis, where he writes about a friend who was still receiving birthday greetings from people on his Facebook page two years after his death. These were people who didn’t know him well enough to even realise he’d passed away in the first place, and who blithely posted despite the fact that his page had sat virtually dormant in that time. And it’s not their fault – it’s just what you do.

It's what we all seem to do. Facebook has 1.23 billion active users worldwide, so the number of people who will regularly wish 500 almost-strangers birthday greetings must be into the millions. Of course, there’s no harm in posting the odd birthday wish to your best friend from primary school – it makes you feel like you’ve done something nice, it’ll make her feel good about your birthday, and there’s always the outside chance it’ll spark up a conversation that will lead to the two of you having a more meaningful connection. But the problem arises when you start taking the whole thing more seriously, comparing your birthday greetings to last year’s hoard or to your friend’s wall, and taking it as proof that you’re unlovable and unpopular.

After all, only seven per cent of communication is based on the verbal or written word, whereas 93 per cent is based on non-verbal body language – and those casual interactions you’re having with people you hardly know are barely interactions at all, and have very little real-life meaning or value. Something to keep in mind next time you're bashing out a quick birthday message to your mum's best-friend's son's cousin on the bus to work...

Follow Rebecca on Twitter @rebecca_hol

Picture: Eylul Aslan

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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