I mentioned my birthday and her eyes went wide.
“Oh my gosh! I’m so sorry!” My friend stopped, gasped. Threw her arms around me in a hug.
“I forgot to post on your wall!”
I hugged back, smiling. Just seven years into Facebook’s existence, had the “happy birthday” wall post become this important?
*Sneeze* “Bless you!” “Thank you.”
*Birthday* “Happy birthday!” >Like<
We’re not there yet. Not even close. But if it’s true that Facebook is “the best thing that’s ever happened to birthdays,” it might be where we’re headed.
On Tuesday the New York Times published a piece on Facebook resisters, the hold-outs who, for all kinds of reasons, are contributing to a slowdown in Facebook’s growth here in the States while the network continues to balloon worldwide.
It took me back to Facebook’s early years (eons ago in 2005) when I’d talk friends into joining by describing the good that can come from building a network that expands the analog boundaries of friendship — including the flood of well wishes that fill your wall on your birthday.
It’s one of the oldest, most widespread and least complicated Facebook rituals to stay delightful through all the add-ons. And wouldn’t you know it: It’s one of the few features on Facebook that’s actually gotten easier over time.
A couple years ago, Facebook told you it was a friend’s birthday, but it was up to you to click to their wall and post a custom message.
Now, you can say happy birthday to three people from just one window. Now, you can post well wishes on someone’s wall without even leaving your home feed. Facebook even suggests precisely what to say, in case you’ve forgotten. “Say happy birthday.”
And now, people have their own ideas about how to make this increasingly automated gesture right.
“Just saying ‘Happy Bday’ is like sending a card that says only ‘Merry Xmas,’ tweeted social media geek Kadee Irene. “I always try to add little more.”
“I feel like the generic “happy birthday” messages are actually impersonal and cold,” Seattle nonprofit geek Sarah Schacht wrote on Facebook. “I try to post happy birthday greetings for friends and mention something I really appreciate about them, who they are, what they do, what I really appreciate about them being in my life.”
“I ALWAYS try to say a little something extra, just to let them know I’m not a zombie doing it because I HAVE to,” wrote social media geek Mike Barbre.
Mike’s comment made me think. In some ways, posting to friends’ Facebook walls is just one more responsibility in the life of the digitally connected. One more to-do in a list kept diligently for you that expands with every new network, every new friend. One more reason resisters resist. And if you don’t sign on to Facebook one day? Whose birthday might you miss? Whom might you insult?
“Say happy birthday.” Zombies, indeed.
But that’s (way) too much techno-blame. No matter how you look at it, it’s nice for pretty much all of us that someone — OK, something — is keeping track of our own special holidays and nudging everyone we know about them. A birthday is more special when people recognize it. It makes us feel appreciated, even loved. Sure, more personalized messages mean more. But if Facebook makes it easier for people just to acknowledge the day, I can’t complain.
Try announcing your own birthday to a packed room thinking about other things. I’ll bet it’s not comfortable.
“While it seems generic, I do feel that a simple ‘Happy Birthday’ is heartfelt, wrote social media geek Madeline Moy. “It’s nice that they remembered/were motivated to respond when Facebook tells them it’s my birthday.”
As a close friend put it to me this week, as easy as “Happy Birthday” has become, no one goes to a small amount of trouble unless, somehow, they mean it.
“I try to say Happy Birthday to people quite a lot, because I know I love to know someone is thinking about me,” wrote game geek Emily Price. “Even if it’s just for a half a second, one day a year.”
Mónica Guzmán is a community strategist in startups and media and a digital life columnist for GeekWire who turned 29 this week and “liked” or responded to just about every birthday post friends left on her Facebook wall (she thinks). You can find her tweeting away at @moniguzman, subscribe to her public Facebook posts at facebook.com/moniguzman or reach her via email. See a list of her clients on her website. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.