Wednesday, October 28, 2009

In Which I Make Not One, But Two People's Birthdays All About Me

One of the handy, how-did-we-ever-do-without-it features of Facebook is a little box that tells you when one of your friends is having a birthday. Given that a typical Friend list is approximately at least 100 or so friends long, that means you've got, on average, eight birthday notifications a month. Of course, not everyone posts their date of birth, so let's round that down to four. Still, that's a lot of birthdays. And you can't skip a birthday--not unless you want to face THAT social stigma. So you're left with posting birthday message after message, until the sheer banality makes you envy the creative powers of greeting card writers.

Happy Birthday, X!
Happy B-Day, X.
Have a gooder, X.
Hey man, happy birthday!
Birthday wishes!
Hope your day is nice!
Way to be born!

And the pressure to conform and just go with Facebook's own brand of birthday expression (Send X a Gift!) builds and builds, and the evil that is social networking is revealed in all its internal systemizing glory.

But no. I refuse to succumb to such mediocrity. I started a campaign to create meaningful, caring birthday messages that contain layers of symbolic meaning: each message represents what I think of that person, what I think they think of me, and what I think is appropriate for a Facebook birthday message. This entry was an early foray into this bold new genre.
Future attempts focused on the historical moment. One friend, for example, was born on the same date that featured, years earlier, an historic defeat of the Scots at the hands of the British. So he got to hear all about that war. Another friend was born on the day of composer Albert Lortzing, so he got a summary of the opera Der Waffenschmie, and a short note about why it was relevant to his life. Plus a short youtube clip of the opera.

Yes, my friends love these messages. Why do you ask?

But with this last message, I discovered you could attach youtube links, and suddenly, I had access to a new bold venue. That's why, for this Tuesday, I sent out two radically different Facebook birthday messages. First, this message:

“Youth is happy because it has the ability to see beauty. Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.”
- Franz Kafka

So here's to growing wiser, but not older. Happy birthday!

And second, this message:

And the point, which I have reached in my classic roundabout manner, is that, in posting these two particular birthday wishes in short succession, is that their incongruity really struck me. The radical difference in tone made me consider not just what each of these girls meant to me, but rather, what image I wanted to present to them. The process really drove home to me how much identity is constructed, and, sometimes, willfully constructed. Which birthday wish is more authentically me? Is there an authentic me?

Facebook: good for existential crises AND wishing people happy birthday. Hallmark WISHES they could do both.

(Special bonus: people who know me in RT can try and guess who the two ladies in question are. No fair cheating by looking on Facebook.)

Later Days.

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