Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Feel the lurrve

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. 


Hyde said...

Which is why I have not published mine on FB. I had wanted to see how many people really remember, and that list has remained consistent over the years. :-)

Sanjana said...

I never published my bday on FB either.
Besides, I don't exactly like my birthdays.

Anyway... in the spirit of the whole thing... I hope you did have a good time! :)

Leela A said...

Hyde: Good call. Btw, when is your birthday :)

Sanjana Aww.. what's not to like about birthdays. Apart from the growing older thing... But that's inevitable no? So might as well celebrate it.

And yes i did have a good time. Great time, actually. Mr. T pulled out all the stops.

Prerana Langa said...

leela, how do you write so well?You can tell me since I do not need a facebook reminder with you.

Jabberwock said...

Happy belated birthday, Leela!

Last year FB tricked me by sending b'day notifications out to everyone even though I hadn't made it public. This year I out-connived them by changing my birthday date a few days in advance.

I know people who get positively orgasmic because as many as 60-70 Facebook "friends" (most of whom they never interact with otherwise) "remembered" their birthday (ya, right). Odd that some people can be so gratified by this sort of thing.

Leela said...

Prerana: Thank you my dear. You're not so bad yourself. :)

Jabberwock: Delighted to see you here! And yes, since the 'avalanche' I've hidden my birthday on Fb. Looking forward to a quieter time next year, hopefully.

Btw, I remembered your birthday on the 12th, and dropped by your page. But when I saw no wishes, I wondered if something was amiss, and desisted from leaving mine.

Belated birthday wishes to you too :)

Jabberwock said...

By the way, Leela, I can't believe I completely forgot that I had written a similar post once - here's the link.

kaushik said...

I hear you....I was absolutely irritated last year with the happy b'day messages flooding "my wall". Not only did I hide my birthday on facebook, but I decided not to wish anyone on facebook. If I thought wishing a person was important to me, I would call/ email.

But despite all my efforts, a few of my friends actually remembered the day; but wished me on FB, and that started a flood of messages from people just monitoring "recent new" and "top news"

Gautam said...

Oh and I just saw this piece http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20110826/01140715696/pavlovian-response-to-seeing-birthday-announcements-facebook.shtml

Asmita said...


Yes, a lot of people who don't otherwise message/contact one, leave a birthday wish when notified on FB but what is the harm? They have wished one well, albeit only once a year :) isn't it? This is like saying I don't appreciate you calling me because now to call, you just pick your cellphone and speed dial rather hunt my number in a diary or remember it!

Even if a person has taken fraction of a second to write a message, it conveys a moment spent thinking about you. Totally appreciation worthy :). And those who have deeper relationships with you, hopefully, they make a little more effort to get in touch and convey their wishes.

Jabberwock said...

Gautam: yes, that Slate story is hilarious - and it's completely believable that 16 people wished David Plotz on all three of his fake July birthdays, just a few days apart. There's certainly no genuine sentiment in those cases - merely a reflexive, unthinking response to a Facebook notification. One more example of how the Internet (and constant communication/clutter in general) turns our minds into mush.

Sanjana said...

it's not abt getting older.. it's abt not having achieved the stuff that I want to have I guess.

But this year was quite fantastic birthday-wise! :)

Leela A said...

Jabberwock: Wow, we share the same peeves. And to think your rant is two years old!

Kaushik: Since the avalanche, I've hidden the date. But yes, I guess there's no escaping.

Gautam: Thanks for the link. Pavlovian describes it best!

Asmita: Like I said, there is nothing insincere about the wishes. One only shouldn't assume any depth or emotion in them. There's no harm, true, but there's nothing that merits appreciation either.

Sanjana: Come now, you're young enough to achieve everything you want. Give or take, a year or two...