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.


Know thy neighbor

Sometimes I find myself feeling comfortable with my computer screen or my smart phone screen as my tap into the outside world. I can sit comfortably in my home, in my car, at a coffee house completely oblivious to the world around me as I visit with friends in California, old co-workers in Iowa or family in Saudi Arabia.

I can catch up on the latest news through my Twitter feed and see photos of my nieces birthday party on Facebook. I have a great social life. It’s all on my computer.

One new social network wants us to put down our laptops for a few minutes and actually visit with the people who live closest to us: our neighbors., a startup in Menlo Park, offers neighbors and community members a new platform to share local information about events, social gatherings and promote communication across the fences. I love this idea.

Growing up in California, I lived next door to my grandparents. We knew our neighbors across the street and a few families up and down the street. But besides with my grandparents our neighbors and us were nowhere near the closeness of holding a block party or even asking for a spare cup of sugar.

When my husband and I moved with our two kids to Iowa so he could start medical school, we were introduced to a Midwestern lifestyle that not only promoted neighborly relations, it was abnormal to not know your neighbors. Our property was demarcated by cyclone fences. There was little privacy, and we could see into backyards several houses down in either direction.

We met our rear neighbors while mowing the back lawn. We shared a driveway with neighbors to the north. The neighbors to the south became such close friends that we not only swapped cups of sugar, but we talked about digging an underground tunnel to connect our basements so we would be able to visit when the weather became harsh.

I loved the feeling that people in the neighborhood knew what was going on. I loved that when we left for vacation or even just a long weekend, we had the security of knowing our neighbors would alert us if anything went wrong with the house. In fact, on one extended trip to California, we received a call from a neighbor telling us their tree had almost fallen on our roof during a recent thunderstorm. They didn’t want us to come home alarmed that part of the tree next door was gone.

Now, living in Ohio, I feel a similar closeness to our neighbors. But, if and when we move back to California when my husband is finished with his residency in Ohio, I wonder if my new sense of neighborliness will be squashed by the cold, high walls of the California neighborhoods I have inhabited. could be the answer to breaking down these proverbial fences and really getting to know the world outside our computers—through our computers.

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All about apples:
Quick and easy apple pancakes: recipe, fun facts

Who’s on Google+?

Grazing the Social Networks and Coming Up (Mostly) Empty

One of my friends once likened Facebook to a refrigerator before grocery day. You keep opening it over and over again hoping to find something good, but usually just walk away hungry, disgusted or with a stomach ache. I find that to be a pretty accurate description of my Facebook feed. I check that stupid thing to an almost OCD-like degree, and never quite find what I’m looking for. And now Facebook has launched the new Subscribe Button, allowing users to follow the updates of any public user. Do you think this will lead to even more spoiled leftovers, condiments, and half-full pickle jars?

My personal Twitter is much the same. I’m not exactly sure how or why I ended up with so many followers other than the little known fact that I pretty much follow everyone back. Except spammers. That includes the Hormel Food Corporation. I tried SPAM once. It tasted fine, but I was sick to my stomach all night.

I barely tweet. Not much of what happens within my trajectory really seems tweet worthy. Like the time I was stuck driving behind that horse’s ass. I’m pretty sure I was the only one who found that even slightly amusing.

Still, I  feel such a strange sense of loyalty to my personal social networking accounts, especially Facebook and Twitter. It’s sort of like the loyalty a dog feels to his master with lots of slobbering, panting, and an occasional poop in the shoe. They feed and stroke me just enough that I can’t bring myself to break through the fence and run free.

Social media tells story of friend’s terrifying ordeal, racially profiled on 9/11


It all started around 1 p.m. with a simultaneous tweet and Facebook post:

Stuck on a plane at Detroit airport…cops everywhere

The day was Sept. 11, 2011, the 10 year anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the post was by my friend and BTW, WTF?!?! blogging partner Shoshana Hebshi. I saw it in my “Top News” feed on Facebook. Worried for Shoshana’s safety and a bit curious, I clicked to her profile page, where I found four more updates, freshly posted:

A little concerned about this situation. Plane moved away from terminal surrounded by cops. Crew is mum. Passengers can’t get up.

Cops in uniform and plainclothes in a huddle in rear of plane.

I see stairs coming our way…yay!

Majorly armed cops coming aboard

And that’s where the posts stopped. Quickly scrambling the Internet, I found a developing news story stating that there were reports of “suspicious” behavior on a plane that had landed at Detroit Metro and passengers were being removed. So at 2:55 p.m. I commented on Shoshana’s page:

hoping you are among them

But I had this sinking feeling she wasn’t.  Perhaps it was because she hadn’t updated her status in quite some time. Perhaps it was because she hadn’t responded to the hundreds of concerned comments pouring in from her friends on her Facebook page. It was a  social media cliffhanger …

Soshana’s husband posted an update on Facebook around 7 p.m.:

Dudes, Shosh was racially profiled and arrested. Dragged off the plane in handcuffs and taken to a cell. Her crime? The color of her skin. 

And that’s how I learned through social media that one of the most peaceful, friendly people I know — a mother, wife, friend, journalist and American citizen — was stripped of her personal liberties and freedoms, simply because her half-Arab (half-Jewish) skin color lumped her among the “suspicious.”

Today Shoshana described her ordeal on her personal blog. She explained how she and two Indian passengers were handcuffed by heavily armed officers, dragged from Frontier Airlines Flight 623, then spent the next few hours locked up, strip searched, and questioned by Homeland Security.

The link (Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit) quickly spread like wildfire on Facebook and Twitter, through IM, and onto other blogs, with friends, family, friends of friends, and strangers posting and reposting it. And around 6p.m. tonight, an editor at The Las Vegas Sun texted me that an AP story on the incident, (which Shoshana links to in her blog), was the No. 2 Top Read Story on their website, behind a story on Ellen DeGeneres.

With the help of social media, Shoshana’s story went viral!

So after a day-and-a-half engrossed in each step of my pal’s ordeal through the world of social media, I did something totally uncanny. I logged out of Facebook, turned off my computer, took a break from texting, and picked up the telephone.

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All’s fair in love and Facebook

Posted by S.

My partner in crime, azfree, got to talking about a recent situation involving a former love interest and a surprise on Facebook (the story of which I hope she posts here soon). It got me to thinking about the delicate balance of living openly on Facebook.

There are ex-boyfriends out there, ex-love interests, ex-one-night-stands, ex-what-ifs, ex-whatevers…and, well, what to you do with them? And, what do you do when your current love interest finds long-lost-exes wafting through the waves of social media?

There was this guy I used to work with, and we were great friends. Then one day he told me he wanted more, but I wasn’t going there. We lost touch soon after, but then several years, a girlfriend for him and a marriage on my part later, he resurfaced! There he was, becoming my friend on Facebook.

We emailed a bit through FB back and forth, catching up on our professional lives and our travels. Turned out he’d done a lot, and I was happy we reconnected, and there seemed to be no hard feelings lingering from the complicated relationship we left years earlier. Then, one day, I discovered he had unfriended me. I was confused and a little hurt, and wondered why. Was it something I said?

There are others out there, some with whom I am FB friends, others to whom I wouldn’t dare send a request. Dust has settled. But now that my husband has recently joined FB, I wonder who will resurface in his life? Certainly there are skeletons in his closet–I think I know all of them, but you never can be fully sure. What strange interactions will they incur? What will he not tell me?

A married friend of mine reconnected with a former boyfriend on FB, and they began a conversation, which she said could have led to satisfying some curiosity on both their parts. She didn’t act on it, and they eventually stopped talking. But what is there to gain in dredging up old relationships through the casual medium of FB?

Voyeurism? Scraping open old wounds? Masochism? Maturity? Who knows!

If FB’s mission is to uninhibit its users to privacy, and in Mark Zuckerberg’s own words: “I’m trying to make the world a more open place,” well I guess all our dirty laundry is there for the airing. Sooner or later we’ll have to face it and choose to friend or unfriend it.