Birthdays in the age of Facebook

Yesterday was my birthday. {Pause} Thank you. It was a nice day. All my Facebook friends knew about it.ecard-2

Ever since Facebook came into my life, or, rather, I came into Facebook, birthdays have become a cyber event of obligatory well wishes and thank yous to people you probably would not even know if not for the largest social networking site in history of humankind.

Almost every day at least one of my Facebook friends celebrates a birthday. An alert pops up on the side of my Facebook screen, and I can easily type a few words into a box, press enter, and wish a far-flung acquaintance a happy birthday. If I know something about that person that goes beyond our passive sharing of random information and photos on Facebook, I might add a personal flair to my post, like: “I hope you have a great day with the family” or “Make sure you get enough rest after your debaucherous extravaganza birthday celebration so you can function properly at work tomorrow” or “I wish we could celebrate together, I miss you!”

As I get older, I have grown more fond of strong connections than loose bonds with people. I can count the number of people I talk to on the phone regularly on one hand. Even with the continuously growing forms in which we can connect with others and our ever-expanding social networks, I am finding that those close friends and family members are the most valuable relationships. They are even more precious now that I’m reminded how man loose ties I have out there with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube…you know, social media. I am proud that I can remember a good friend’s birthday without being reminded by Facebook. {Aleza, yours is March 3.}

Don’t get me wrong. It feels good to get dozens of people wishing me a happy birthday, and I enjoy sending a good wish their way when it’s their turn. But what feels even better is a phone call or a text from a good friend, a card in the mail or even a great night out with those who matter most.

So, happy birthday to me, and to you, and don’t forget to like my post.

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Social Media 1.0

A few days ago, I had a profound experience in social media. My phone, dead from a swollen battery, sat in the hands of aVerizon Guy geeky Verizon Wireless tech guru who actually looked like the bespectacled dude from the company’s ads. I was cut off from my mobile versions of Twitter, Facebook, Words with Friends, RSS feeds, and even WordPress, not to mention the old-fashioned texting and phone functions of my smart phone. Needless to say, I was a little out of sorts.

The geek commented on my phone number, noting the area code and asking where it was from. San Francisco, I replied. And, like most Midwesterners do, he asked me why I was living in Ohio. Sometimes I dream about this conversation I have it so often, but after explaining to him my circumstances of being exiled from California for several years as my husband pursues his medical training, we started talking about how beautiful my home state is, how he has family living in Santa Cruz, and how much he’d like to move back there. We set up rapport. We laughed, joked about the cost of living differences between the two states, and then it was time for him to give me a diagnosis on my befallen battery.

I needed a new one, and there weren’t any in stock in the region. Not surprising, as this phone is notorious for having a poor battery. “I can order one for you,” he said. I agreed, and he offered me shipping options. This turned into even a more zig-zaggy conversation that meandered through the merits of choosing the USPS instead of UPS or FedEx.

Turns out, this guy loves to find old magazines and comic books that have ads in the back for the reader to cut out and mail in for a free offer. He gathers sometimes decades-old ads, mails them in and waits for a response.

He started telling me all about the many ads he’s cut out from the ’70s and ’80s and how most of them go unanswered. Some come back, Return to Sender, some come back with little notes saying the offer is no longer valid. He sends cash in these envelopes, and he usually gets the cash back, too.

What a fun, wild idea. I thought, and I was so happy to have had this conversation with a random person at the Verizon store that it made me think about all the chit-chat I do on social media—Twitter, Facebook and the like—that is so much less interesting and personal as what I encountered in a face-to-face handful of minutes with this guy.

While social media has its benefits of increasing someone’s network, finding other like-minded people, keeping friends and family members in one neat box where they can easily share photos and snippets from their lives and vice-versa, nothing beats real one-on-one face time with another person—social media 1.0.

Human contact will always be the number-one booster of social capital. It’s what sticks with you, what creates our humanity. And we will never be able to get that through any screen.

Our virtual life does not reflect real life

A Facebook friend of mine, also a former colleague, posted this comment today:

Ways in which FB is not like real life: You can like everything, you can’t dislike anything, and you can’t like anything (or anyone) more than once.

This status update didn’t get much of a response; some of her updates get dozens of comments and likes. But it inspired me to think deeper about this virtual life we have created on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube…and the list goes on and on and on.

I sometimes get so sucked into my computer, that is, my own virtual reality, that I  neglect what is happening beyond my screen and outside of my online networks. Certainly I know the weather in San Diego is beautiful because my Facebook friends who live there told me so. I also know a friend who just had a baby in San Francisco is looking for recommendations on how to get her baby on a good sleep schedule.

But what is going on with my neighbor? Is it actually sunny and warm outside of my house?

It’s not that I don’t participate in the outside world of real life, but sometimes the virtual world is just so much more accessible and interesting. But it is also limiting.

There is nothing more fulfilling than having a wonderful conversation with a friend who is actually sitting across from you, moving her lips and talking. Maybe it involves sipping on tea that I steeped in my own kitchen. There’s no way I could get the satisfaction of watching my kids play with each other in harmony while staring at my computer screen.

Some things in real life are invaluable. But still, I wouldn’t trade the informative network I’ve got on Twitter, or the ability to sort of keep in touch with my myriad friends and foes on Facebook. And sometimes, too, I get looped into a YouTube feed that is inspiring or funny.

What I’m saying is it’s great to have both, and the virtual world and the real world have their own rules and quirks. Maybe I can’t unlike something on Facebook, but I can unfollow someone on Twitter and never hear from them again. It’s not so easy to do that with a pesky neighbor.