The Turmoil of Facebook Wall Post Birthday Salutations

Posted on August 3, 2011 by


By Anthony Dean-Harris

I recently have conducted an experiment in which I’ve been extra particular about whose birthdays I celebrate on Facebook. It’s a terribly conducted experiment, though. It’s not like I’ve been logging data or anything, and I’ve still been leaving a great many wall posts of (attempted) distinct greetings. Alright, maybe it’s more of a Gedankenexperiment except with much more activity with a lot of thought about it, but if that were the case, maybe it’s not really a Gedankenexperiemnt.

So I’ve recently been really neurotic about celebrating birthdays on Facebook. In a golden era before our own, we used to keep track of the birthdays of family and close friends and maybe that one girl who pins a dollar to her shirt every year with the expectation that random strangers would add to her money chain even though she’s getting a little too old for that sort of thing. But with the proliferation of our digital lives into our physical lives, so has the expectation that everyone will add a few little characters of joy onto the billboards that encompass our beings.Some have decried the insincerity of this cultural development and have worked diligently to debunk it. Yet most of us probably try to be as equitable as possible with our economy of words. Some may leave a post up on every wall they encounter, fighting off the nag that someone out there has a birthday and there’s wall space left unclaimed. Some folks don’t say anything at all, leaving such personal matters to personal rapport– phone calls, lunches and the like.

Somewhere in the middle of all this lies me– the guy who thinks just a little bit too much about when was the last time I talked with this person or if this birthday greeting is the opening I need to start having regular conversations one or two “Anthony likes your activity” notifications down the line. I question if my words are distinct enough and whether or not I’m recycling jokes (if my words mean something, shouldn’t they always try to be special?). No mere “Happy birthday!” will do, oh no. This is a time for festivity and distinctiveness, on the public forum that is a Facebook wall, no less. These aren’t just memories; these are time stamped. These are noted and archived and stashed away somewhere so Mark Zuckerberg can keep my salutations on a server far away and later sell my wit to advertisers who seem to know absolutely everything and absolutely nothing about me all at the same time.

Still, there’s always those creeping thoughts in the back of my mind, Did I leave her out? We haven’t spoken in a while but I still should wish her a happy birthday. Does it look bad if I forget about him? Then of course, there’s the realization that maybe all of this doesn’t really matter. In a time in which words are made so flippantly, my two minutes of thought (probably ten times as much time spent than most who leave birthday greetings) is but a mere, unnoticed drop in the bucket that is the wall of some random person on the internet, intimately known to me or not.

So if I miss you, maybe I meant it or maybe I didn’t. Either way, know I’m pretty torn up about it.

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