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Facebook Has Ruined Birthdays

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Happy Birthday to David Galbraith. There, I said it.

This seems as good a place as any to share that thought. I've been thinking about his birthday for about a week, ever since Facebook told me about it. But I couldn't decide what to do.

While I've enjoyed the occasional times we've spent together, I don't know David Galbraith well enough to call him about something like this. If I sent him an email, he'd probably wonder how I even knew it was his birthday. On the other hand, I perceive our friendship to be just a little too cool -- and both of us to be a little too cynical and even ornery -- for me to join the masses with a simple click of a happy birthday button on Facebook. Even if I had posted on his wall, I wouldn't know the right message length and tone to place me appropriately between his really good friends and some schmo he met in the lobby of an internet conference.

So I did nothing.

That's been happening a lot these days. Facebook has thrown my birthday skills for a loop. Birthdays used to be the one social arena in which I excelled. Anytime anyone mentioned their birthday, I immediately entered it into my calendar. And then I never missed the occasion. When it came to birthdays, I was The Man. There were three things any friend of mine could count on when their birthday arrived. Cake, candles and a call from me.

But now everyone knows it's your birthday. I used to be right up there with cake, but Facebook has commoditized my one and only social skill. I've been replaced by the computer. And it's not just Facebook. I was the second person to wish my son a happy fourth birthday. The first was his dentist's customer relations management software.

My own Facebook birthday was a complete disaster. I've been logging on to the site since before they opened it up to the general public, and I swear, I'm well-liked on the outside. But when my birthday arrived, there was nothing more than a couple messages from those two friends everyone has who always comment on everything anyone posts. I expected my Facebook wall to look like Vanity Fair's Oscar Party, and instead I got a panoramic shot from the now abandoned set of Deadwood. And this rebuff came only a couple months after I had to watch my wife scroll the length of the Torah to get through her Facebook birthday wishes.

I started to make excuses for my nearly abandoned wall. Maybe there is something technically wrong with my account. Maybe my birthday isn't in the system. Maybe a lot of my really good friends are still avoiding Facebook.

I wanted to call my friends one by one and explain the new reality. We all see each others' birthday messages, and we can all measure each others' popularity by way of the new social statistics: Twitter followers and mentions, Facebook friends, and yes, birthday wishes on our Facebook wall. I don't care about your phone calls or offers to take me out to dinner. Just log on and start clicking. I need the numbers. But you can't beat the system. Everything from a failure to acknowledge a birthday to my own barren wall is there in the open for all to see.

Man, I miss the days when popularity was measured by something pure and simple like the amount of cash you got on your Bar Mitzvah. But times have changed. So, Happy Birthday to you, David Galbraith. I may not know you that well and I'm at least a week or two late, but I bet I'm the only one who wrote you an entire blog post for your birthday.

Unless my son's dentist got to you first.

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