How to tell if your friends really love you
By Sophie Isbister, Staff Writer
September 25 was my birthday, and it was the first year out of the past six that my personal day of honour wasn’t publicly recognized on social media.
When I started this experiment, I didn’t really put a lot of thought into the timing of it. Sure, I acknowledged that my birthday would fall mid-experiment. I even recognized that if I wanted to have a halfway decent birthday party, I couldn’t just throw together a Facebook event and watch people RSVP. What I didn’t account for was the actual, visceral sadness that I would experience upon realizing that there would be a 2012-shaped gap in my timeline of “Happy Birthday!” greetings on the social network.
The giant narcissist that dwells within me usually relishes this time of year. Despite the fact that the usual Facebook birthday greeting comes from an acquaintance who wouldn’t know your birthday if it wasn’t shoved in their face, it’s nice to see such an outpouring. People by the hundreds all writing words, just for me! So I guess it’s understandable that the little ego-monster in my guts started spewing acid once it realized it was going to miss out on its yearly feel-goodery fest.
[quote]I only got a dozen greetings this year instead of the usual dozen-squared. But each greeting was remembered. Each person who wished me a happy birthday did it because their brain told them to, not a faceless website.[/quote]
While I am arguably the most brilliant person to ever do a Facebook-related social experiment, I am definitely not the first. David Plotz at Slate.com conducted a similar but inverse experiment in the summer of 2011— instead of having no Facebook birthday, he had three in the span of six weeks. Plotz discovered that the urge to bestow meaningless platitudes on the birthday boy-or-girl is so rote that he received multiple birthday greetings from the same people, even worded almost exactly the same each time. He equates this knee-jerk greeting with a social media user’s desire to create “social capital,” a kind of you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours of friendly greetings.
I don’t disagree with Plotz’s findings. Mine were similar. I received a handful of personal text messages from people who I consider to be my close friends, including my mother, my significant other, my best friend, and her fiancé. I only got a dozen greetings this year instead of the usual dozen-squared. But each greeting was remembered. Each person who wished me a happy birthday did it because their brain told them to, not a faceless website. When I think about that, it feels good. But I still won’t forget my initial trip to desolation station.
Next week on Social Media Detox: I ask my boyfriend to check Facebook for me to see if there’s anything to do on Saturday night. He says, “That’s cheating, and you’d better tell the newspaper that you asked me to do this.” He’s so right, and I’m so bad! Stay tuned for a guide on how to stay social without a technological lifeline.