01/31/2012 07:37 am ET Updated Apr 01, 2012

Facebook Birthday Wishes Are An Important Social Tradition

Happy birthday to me, happy birthday to meeeee! Yes, I am singing to myself because when I switched over to the newly mandated Facebook timeline, I somehow deleted my birth date from my profile. As a result of this oversight -- my bad, all of it -- most of my friends didn't remember that Wednesday was my birthday.

What was most startling was realizing just how much a part of my annual birthday celebration that avalanche of birthday well wishes on Facebook has become. Since nobody (except my BFF Amy) still sends cards via snail mail, Facebook is now the way to go. And until this week, I didn't appreciate that getting messages from dozens -- dare I say hundreds? -- of people actually counts for something. I hate to admit this, but the absence of the Facebook attention caused a crater-sized hole in my birthday celebration. It was Christmas morning without gifts to open.

Keeping track of birthdays is one thing Facebook actually does well. Once the social networking site knows your birth date, it sends all your friends a reminder gently suggesting they wish you a happy birthday, just like moms used to do. All your friends need to do is click on your name, and they'll get a prompt to write a birthday wish on your wall (or they can go directly to your page).

Short of writing "Happy Birthday" (that will probably be the next Facebook change, and you creative types can reset your account settings in 438 easy steps if you insist on writing your own personalized messages), Facebook provides this fast-and-easy way to let a friend know you (almost) remembered their birthday. Sending birthday wishes via Facebook is also less expensive and involves less effort than going to the store, picking out a card and hunting down a surviving stamp from where you stashed them the last time you actually mailed something three years ago.

A rabbi once taught me that the amount of effort something takes contributes to its value, which is why visiting a sick friend in the hospital scores more points than sending a "get-well" card. Phone calls take more time and are more personal, so they too trump sending a card. And while having flowers delivered scores well on the "they-spend-they-care" meter, nothing beats the hospital visit. Why? Because visiting a hospital is something we all universally hate. By making an effort of this magnitude, you are showing your friends how important they are to you. That knowledge makes everyone, the sick especially, feel better.

I don't think the rabbi's wisdom is being challenged here when I say, albeit with some embarrassment, that I missed getting those pages of Facebook birthday wishes this year. There is something fun about hearing from friends from the various parts of my life -- past and present -- and that's only something a social network can provide.

And so, a day after my birthday, I posted this status on my Facebook wall:

"OK, want another example of how powerful FB is in our lives? Yesterday was my birthday and I inadvertently deleted that info in the new stupid timeline. As a result, just one friend wished me a happy birthday!! OK ... not too late ... let it rip!!"

I'd like to publicly thank the zillions of people who wished me a belated happy birthday. To my grade school friend who now lives in Kentucky, my carpool buddies, work friends from three jobs ago, strangers I know only from Facebook -- my heartfelt thanks. It was just as much fun reading your messages a day late. But should I ever be hospitalized, let's go back to Plan A, OK?