Facebook has Ruined Birthdays

First World Problem Facebook

There, I said it. It won’t be a popular opinion and many can counter it by saying all of the wonderful things that Facebook does for birthdays (such as remind us when they are, which is the part I love), but the end result is an utter destruction of the birthday construct that has lived perpetually in western society for centuries and that was nearly perfected in the 20th century prior to the rise of the internet in general and Facebook in particular.

We used to get cards. We used to get calls. We used to get visitors. Today, we get wall posts. Last year’s birthday was the first time I noticed the dramatic drop in my phone ringing. I don’t do family holidays outside of my immediate family so my birthday and the birthdays of my friends and relatives was a reminder to catch up, to ask my brother about his family, to make sure that my cousin’s old dog hadn’t died yet (it persists year after year going on 2 decades now), to hear about how an old buddy from college or even high school had finally gotten married and would have sent me an invite if he knew I’d moved to California.

Last year was different. I was offended. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the birthday party or birthday gift type. Like I said, birthdays represent a day of communication with those who don’t live at my house or work at my office. When I received nil in the form of phone calls last year other than my mother, I wondered what had happened. I called a friend who informed me to look on my Facebook wall.

There they were. A ton of Happy Birthday messages from friends, family, coworkers, and even a few people I didn’t recognize. It was nice at first, but then I realized that I didn’t have a chance to catch up with my brother, to talk to my cousin, or to muse with an old buddy. They did their duty. They wished me a happy birthday. I was unfulfilled.

Please, if you’re out there and if you’ve allowed Facebook to become your birthday greeting method, step back for a moment. Which is better – a wall post or a phone call? Don’t get me wrong – Facebook has allowed me to wish acquaintances happy birthday in ways that I would never have had before. I wouldn’t have called them, sent them a birthday card, or gone by their house. The ones close to me, though – Facebook isn’t enough. It’s gotten to the point that it’s so personal  that it’s almost impersonal.

Use Facebook for the people you don’t know very well (or don’t like a whole lot). For the people you really care for, pick up the phone, send them a card via snail mail, or drop by to say high. In person. Face to face. With a real voice.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post on their wall. That’s for the public. Post a funny picture of them. Write them a poem for the rest of their world to see. THEN, pick up the phone or hop in the car and make an appearance.

Leave a Reply


  1. rcoill

    Nice post. So true. I have my birthday date hidden on Facebook, so actually people doesn’t even know i have one 🙂

  2. Facebook doesn’t ruin birthdays, but humans are. We have choice to choose not to use Facebook to send birthday wishes on wall rather send cards.

  3. The Sod Father

    One of my buddies has a completely random birth date on his FB profile. It is hysterical to see all of the birthday wishes from those who do not know the real date – and the response from those that do.

  4. Gotta agree with Kent, but only partially.
    Total disclaimer: I’m biased – I run a birthday calendar/reminder app for Facebook.

    Of course we (humans) have the choice to go for the easy, convenient, quick (and dirty ?) way to “stay out of trouble” and use Facebook, or to take a higher path and pick up the phone, send a card, show up in person, plan surprises, make a gift, etc.

    But our culture dictates that “we are busy” and “we have no time” and “it should be easier”. And that fidgety present-hedonistic state of mind is cultivated by technology and tools such as Facebook which are not doing as much to encourage us to have more meaningful interactions as they are doing to persuade us that they are making things easier, simpler, quicker (dumber?).

    Sure, there’s great virtues in quick, simple, easy things. But there should be a way to inspire people not to loose sight of the fact not everything is simple, and quick, and easy. And not everything should be.

    Caring about others is not quick and easy. It will never be and should never be. Either you care and you spend the time that your level of caring implies, or you don’t.

    That doesn’t mean technology can’t help, it means technology must be smarter.

    For example, our Facebook apps will send birthday reminders but a week in advance so you have time to prepare. We will suggest to make birthday plans for your closest friends so you can have face to face time. We will suggest gift ideas that you could buy based on what your friends like, we will help to organize secret group gifts with friends in common …

    And there are probably some other meaningful ways to inspire people to be more thoughtful in their interactions and upgrade their social experiences.

  5. The easy solution to this conundrum, of course, is simply not post your birthday publicly on Facebook.

  6. @ The Sod Father,

    Yeah, it is great fun changing your friends birthdays on FB and not telling them!

  7. “We used to get cards. We used to get calls. We used to get visitors. Today, we get wall posts.”

    We used to hunt the food we wanted to eat. We used to drink water from the river. Today we get our shit from the supermarket. Not all changes are bad by default.

    I’m more than happy that not all of my 452 FB friends call me on my birthday.

  8. Hey, nice article there. It made me think and I have come up with few suggestions as to What Facebook Can Do To Make Birthday Wishes More Special. You can read it here http://sovedo.com/what-facebook-can-do-to-make-birthday-wishes-more-special/