“You know what the best thing is about Facebook?”
My teenage daughter threw the question out there. Given that she spends way more time on her laptop each day than she does interacting with her loving family, I couldn’t wait to hear the answer. Was she going to praise the ease with which you can check out your friends’ 400 latest photos? The ability Facebook gives you to hook up with friends of friends? Or maybe she’s into the new alerts that tell you what articles your friends are reading online (which, by the way, I can’t stand).
“It’s the birthday reminder,” she said with a big smile. “Isn’t it great the way you get that email telling you all the birthdays coming up that week so you can say happy birthday to people? I never miss anybody’s birthday anymore. And on my birthday, I got, like, a thousand messages!” Like most girls her age, she’s prone to exaggeration, but given that she has more than 1,300 Facebook friends, this is entirely possible.
I’m an old school card-sender and I keep two types on hand at all times: sympathy cards and belated birthday greetings, because I’m more likely to be late on the birthday front than on time. I subscribe to the better-late-than-never philosophy, especially when it comes to commemorating moments that matter. Some of the most successful people I know had a system for remembering people’s special events long before Facebook came along. Black Enterprise founder Earl G. Graves, Sr. literally makes it his business to acknowledge the significant days of not only his peers, but of their assistants! Through the years, he has traced many a pivotal business deal back to the fact that he sent someone’s secretary flowers for her birthday.
My card sending days started early, sparked by a moving story my mother and her baby sister always told. It went something like this:
My mom and her sister, Yvonne, talked about buying flowers and taking them to their Aunt Dora’s house with a card. It was her birthday. But the sisters got sidetracked, time got away from them, and they didn’t go, or even call. The next day, Aunt Dora was dead. She was hit by a subway train and both of her legs were severed at the ankle. My mom said that when they arrived at the hospital to see her, the nurses motioned to a bag in the corner that contained Aunt Dora’s shoes. Her feet were still in them. The doctors’ presumed the tragedy was not accidental because the train wasn’t one that Aunt Dora would have typically taken and she was not pushed. No one actually said the word “suicide,” but the question has hovered over her death like a black cloud ever since. Whenever my mother tells the story, even now, some 60 years later, she says, “If Yvonne and I had just gone to see her, at least she would have known somebody really cared. She would have known that we remembered her birthday.”
My mom and Aunt Yvonne were changed that day. My mom became good about remembering people’s special days, even if just with a last minute phone call, but Aunt Yvonne became single minded in her commitment to letting everyone in her circle know they were never forgotten. She left nothing to chance, creating a calendar exclusively for birthdays and anniversaries. She kept a stockpile of cards and stamps on hand and made sure her address book stayed current. Replenishing her stash of greeting cards often, she sent a bunch out each week, never missing a year, a month, or another birthday after Aunt Dora’s. “It’s a small thing,” she’d say, “but it means so much.”
I have a dear old pal who is also a colleague in the media world and a Facebook friend. (Yes, George, I’m talking about you!) I tease him relentlessly for having 4,914 “friends” (and counting) on Facebook. Now, he happens to be one of those people who actually does seem to know everybody, but still, 5,000 is a huge number, even for a nice guy and consummate networker. I’m guessing not all of those people get a birthday messages from him when their special dates pop up in his email. But here’s the thing: On his birthday, his Facebook blows up! I mean, he’s got wishes and prayers, videos, songs, and jokes coming at him for days, including from “friends” who are mere business contacts as well as relative strangers. What’s not to love about that? In fact, it’s occurred to me that that’s why he has so many FB friends—not a bad birthday strategy!
In times like these, 5,000 wishes can keep you going for way longer than it takes to reach your next birthday. But it only takes one to maybe just get you through a tough day—or minute.
Technology gets a lot of flak for heightening our sense of isolation from each other, but I have to agree with my wise techno-happy teenage daughter: Facebook may connect you with lots of pseudo-friends, but it also reminds us of what true friendship is all about. (Reminder to all my friends out there who may not be on Facebook, my birthday’s in two weeks. Just sayin’…)