I’m not one to read too far into Facebook messages, but this year on my birthday, I found myself feeling emotional after reading all the messages on my Timeline. It wasn’t the number that struck me—in fact, after a brief calculation I found that less than twenty percent of my network made the effort. But that didn’t matter. I’ve even read the snarky and brilliant social media experiments that prove people don’t remember your actual birthday, and will actually wish you a happy birthday multiple times a year if you switch around your birth date. None of this evidence stopped me from getting choked up.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the rush of emotions did not come because these people thought of me. I got emotional thinking about them. Among some of my favorite appearances this year: a former boss that brought me to a Fashion Week, when I was wearing a suit from “Express” (never acknowledging I was the least fashionable person there); the field hockey goalie from my high school team that gave me an unforgiving but hilarious nickname; a childhood friend that taught me how to drive her white pick-up truck; an ex boyfriend that kind of broke my heart when I was 16; a high school English teacher that introduced me to the power of symbolism in Rebecca, one of my favorite books of all time. A theme I later used on one of my SAT essays.
There is a dichotomy in living life online. On one hand the permanence of sharing online can be a major curse. Photos from a less-than-tasteful Halloween costume in your Google image search and hasty (possibly nasty) blog comments accumulate over the years, leaving your digital identity less than pristine. But on your birthday, I think it’s a blessing to see relationships resurface revealing bits of your life that could have been otherwise forgotten.
Now I know there are cynics that will say these people come out of the woodwork to wish you a happy birthday so you return the favor on their birthday, decorating their wall with clever “Happy Birthday Day” quips. Others will say these birthday messengers aren’t real friends at all. But, I would argue that despite the research that shows we can only manage 150 friends at a time, the notion of friendship has been redefined in the digital era. Perhaps friends are not only the people that are invited to sit in the front row of your life, but also a larger support network that’s rooting for you from the nosebleed seats.
Am I getting mushy? That’s entirely possible. Chalk it up to old age.
Posted on 10/12/2013
Adrianna Giuliani leads the planning department at DeVries Global, a PR and Social media firm. She is the founder of Techromance, a blog that examined the intersection of dating and technology and continues to be fascinated by how social media has changed from a reflection of how we communicate IRL, to a force that shapes how we relate to each other. She has guest blogged for Social Media Week, PR Week, the College Crush and Dot Complicated. You can follow her on Twitter at @adriannagiuls.