An avalanche hit me on my birthday this year. Over 200 emails from friends, cousins, acquaintances, old classmates, ex-boyfriends, people I haven’t spoken to in years, even people I’ve been avoiding.
Of course, anyone who has his or her birth date listed on Facebook will know what I’m talking about. The wishes just keep pouring in. Each time you empty out a batch of Facebook notifications, there’s another deluge within a few minutes.
Let’s get this straight, I enjoy attention as much as any other megalomaniac. And this torrent of wishes can be quite heady. As a kid, I always wanted the whole world to know it was my birthday and fawn over me. I loved it when people remembered the day without prompting and gave me cards and gifts, but equally thrilling was someone finding out and then making a big deal of it.
“Ohhh!! it’s your birthday!!! Hey everyone, it’s her birthday!!!! Haaaapppyyyy biiiiirthhhhdayyyy tooooo youuuuuuu……”
Over the years, the thrill of celebrating birthdays never diminished. But somehow people’s enthusiasm hasn’t quite kept up. Does anyone even send greeting cards with hand written messages anymore? I loved receiving them. They used to be the harbinger of birthdays, arriving in the post with exotic stamps and with the scent of faraway places. I still have a collection of those cards, some of them over 30 years old.
E-cards tried to replicate the same emotion, but they never caught on thankfully. With their annoying pop ups and tinny music, they just seemed like a soulless version of the real thing.
Then, of course, came sms wishes. HB 2 U. Throw in a smiley or two and you could even inject some emotion into an impersonal message. It always struck me as odd to receive sms wishes from friends in the same city. But this year, it turned out that most of the text messages I received were from banks and malls – faceless establishments that needed to prove their ‘human’ side.
It used to be that the older you grew, the fewer the people who remembered your birthday, and made the effort to wish you. But Facebook’s changed all that. Wishes start trickling in at the stroke of midnight, or earlier, depending on your time zone. The friends who usually needed prompts and warnings in the past, now have no problem remembering. The ‘Wall’ is painted with enthusiastic outpourings, cheerful declarations and fervent wishes. Even people you’ve had minimal interaction with in years seem to feel for you somehow.
I’m not saying that there’s anything insincere about these wishes. It’s just that they seem a little too ‘easy’. The challenge used to be in making the effort to remember birthdays. Earlier, you had to make a note of it in a diary or embed it in memory. And you only reserved this privilege for the important few.
Now, people know it’s your birthday because Facebook tells them. You can write a wish without having to look at the date. Coz, hey, Facebook will prompt you next year as well. With minimal effort, you can hammer out a few words and then get on with checking someone’s vacation photos, or comment on someone’s status.
Some people find it ‘overwhelming’ and are ‘touched’ with this outpouring of love on their birthdays. Some others go to the extent of replying and thanking every single person who’s left a wish on their wall. I’m often embarrassed when someone thanks me. It feels like they’ve put in more effort than I have.
Maybe I’m just growing old and crotchety, and prone to ranting. Maybe it really is nice to be thought of, even if briefly, by over 200 people on your birthday. But there’s nothing to beat the few calls from family and close friends, who didn’t need to refer to Facebook to know it’s my birthday.