One birthday wish came from an elementary school classmate I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 50 years. Another wish was from a local friend I’d seen just the night before. Then there was the old California friend who I seldom saw even when I lived in California. A former colleague from 25 years ago wished me the best of birthdays. A cousin I unfriended a couple of years ago because I kept seeing his extreme right-wing rants said ‘happy birthday cuz.”
These people and dozens of others wished me a happy birthday on Facebook. I was actually surprised, even though Facebook prompts you whenever it’s one of your Facebook friend’s birthday.
Like many of us, I have a complicated relationship with Facebook, and social media in general. In the past four months I’ve posted five times, each post a link to one of my own blog entries that I thought might be worth sharing beyond my regular subscriber base.
I don’t post anything about my cute pet, or brag about accomplished children, or praise my amazing wife when she does something kind for me. Not only do I seldom post anything on Facebook, I rarely comment on anyone else’s posts. I’m not interested in being snarky or ironic or overly clever in my comments, and I don’t want to engage in fruitless and demoralizing political discussions or give vacuous cheers because someone had a great night. An occasional ‘like’ is about as far as I go. Nor am I actively trying to build my friend group.
In other words, I’m not a very good Facebook friend.
Most of my feed is taken up by sponsored posts, political vitriol, the handful of groups I follow, and ordinary posts from the same twenty or so Facebook friends that appear in my scroll. It’s really not that interesting. What is interesting is how nice it felt to be wished a happy birthday by all these people I’m connected to almost exclusively on a virtual basis, and discovering that connection had meaning. I didn’t expect to feel that way. But each little birthday wish gave me pause to think for a moment about the person that sent it, and simply experiencing that thought, and contemplating that person, however briefly, lifted my mood.
I’ve considered closing down my Facebook account, but haven’t yet. The secret reason is that when my next book comes out I’m going to need my Facebook network to help get the word out—the same network I pay so little attention to now. That might be asking too much of others. Like I said, I’m not a very good Facebook friend. But now I have another reason to keep my account: people wish me a happy birthday. I might start doing the same in return for them. There, I did it. A Facebook friend has a birthday today and I just wrote on their timeline.