Are Facebook Birthdays the Root of All Evil?

Categories: Tech
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Your "friends" don't know shit about you
Facebook's birthday reminders have become an invaluable tool for the socially inattentive among us. If you're a person who has trouble remembering your son's birthday -- even when it's the same day as your own -- the periodic reminders that crop up beside your news feed on the social network can be a godsend.

Unless, of course, they are an insidious mechanism helping to destroy the world of meaningful human interaction as we know it.

The latter proposition is examined by Slate editor David Plotz in an article published today. Plotz conducted an experiment: He repeatedly reset the date of his birth on his Facebook page so that he celebrated three "birthdays" in the month of July. (His actual birthday, he tells us, is in January.) This oddity raised few red flags among his many Facebook "friends," many of whom repeatedly sent him online birthday wishes, unaware of his ruse.

What, exactly does this reveal? According to Plotz:

Mass electronic communication is destroying our memories, since we rely on devices to protect us from embarrassing ourselves. I routinely send an email to a friend on a Tuesday, and then send her exactly the same email on Thursday. Even so, the Facebook fake birthday experiment did end up confirming my worst fears about the network. All too many birthday wishes are autonomic, sent without thought or personal feeling. It's one thing to remember your friend's birthday because you took him out a decade ago for his drunken 21st birthday debauch. It's much lamer to "remember" your friend's birthday because Facebook told you to. A significant number of Facebookers clearly use the service without sentiment, attempting to build social capital--undeserved social capital--with birthday greetings that they haven't thought about based on birthday memories of you that they don't actually have.

Some new-media mavens take issue with Plotz's reasoning. Adrian Chen of Gawker points out that Plotz admits to not personally knowing the majority of his 1,500-plus Facebook friends. (Plotz says he uses the site primarily for professional purposes, like broadcasting Slate stories.) Fair enough; impersonal online messaging works both ways.

Nevertheless, Plotz has pointed out yet another way in which FB relationships are a debased simulacrum of real human contact -- a theme hilariously sounded by South Park when its writers envisioned a world in which all human interaction was identical to Facebook interaction. Thanks for the food for thought, Mr. Plotz -- we'll accept it as a party favor.

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Of course you can look at anything and take the negative road. But I look at things positively and have a much better outlook. I love the fact that I now can wish people a Happy Birthday when before I didn't know their birthday or sending a card just didn't happen. I even pay my bills on line. It's much more convenient and it gets done a lot faster.People that criticize modern technology are probably the same people that stand in the corner at a social gathering.

COMMUNICATION and making it easier to communicate is what all this technology is doing for us. Take a minute to look at the whole picture. 

How many times in the past (pre-Facebook, etc) did you know when your relative across the country was going on vacation, getting promoted, kids pictures being posted. The chance to watch them grow. 

I just love it. I'm 52 and love the fact that I can see my family and friends accomplishments, adventures, pictures and families grow.

I can now keep in touch with friends I have lost contact with through the years. Because of normal growth in life.

Thank you Steve, Mark and all you geniuses that have created this awesome way of communicating throughout the world!


Maybe all this means is that no one cares when this guy's birthday really is. Not our problem, dude!

Heddi Cundle
Heddi Cundle

Hmmm - not loving this. Why would you try test something as simple as a birthday trick to assess the whole validity of Facebook. It doesn't change anything about personalities/friendships - it just comes across as amusing and certainly not remotely categorized as 'evil!' With all the atrocious things going on in the world, I really do believe the focus on column inch articles could be better well spent...and more amusing. Cmon SF Weekly, you're so much more intelligent than this! Big up that IQ again :)


taking it way too seriously, and being a bit too cynical.  just cuz i might not know when all of my friends' birthdays are by memory, that does not change the sentiment behind when i send a happy birthday message on facebook.  rather than me feeling embarrassed, i feel like i am helping make a friend (or possibly just an acquaintance) to feel a little more special and thought of on their special day!

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